Business

With Knight Foundation support, PowerMoves program to launch in Miami

Miami Beach entrepreneur Dawn Dickson, CEO of Flat Out of Heels, won a PowerMoves pitch competition in New Orleans earlier this year.
Miami Beach entrepreneur Dawn Dickson, CEO of Flat Out of Heels, won a PowerMoves pitch competition in New Orleans earlier this year.

While black and Hispanic students earn nearly 20 percent of computer science degrees, they make up only 9 percent of the technology industry and less than 1 percent of technology company founders.

PowerMoves, a national initiative to increase the number of venture-backed, high-growth companies led by entrepreneurs of color, aims to help close that gap. The organization will open an office and program in Miami, with a $1.2 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“Diversity is our greatest asset and differentiator and it’s our competitive advantage in Miami. As we continue to build Miami’s startup community and create more on-ramps into this rapidly growing community, we see PowerMoves as another important and impactful way to do that,” said Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation program director for Miami.

PowerMoves began in 2014 as a hyper-local program to position New Orleans as a hub for entrepreneurs of color. Since then, it has rapidly grown, offering education, mentorship and investment opportunities. It has helped 100 companies nationwide secure more than $27 million in capital commitments. 

Miami will be the first city outside of New Orleans to host a PowerMoves office and year-round programming including pitch competitions, bootcamps and fellowship programs.

Earl Robinson, CEO of PowerMoves, said his goal in Miami is to help make the entrepreneurial ecosystem broadly inclusive, particularly for African-American, Afro-Caribbean historically under-represented startup entrepreneurs. “We want to give under-represented entrepreneurs the support they need in a nurturing way but also be a portal and plug them into the incredibly deep existing resources in Miami,” said Robinson, an entrepreneur with a background in the private equity industry.

Leveraging Miami’s diversity and increasing inclusion is also one of Knight’s key goals and there is more work to do, Haggman said. Knight’s efforts in this area kicked off with a $2.18 million commitment a year ago that opened the Idea Center entrepreneurship hub at Miami Dade College, America’s largest and most diverse college campus. Other efforts have included Knight support of Black Tech Week, Digital Grass, Code Fever, LaunchCode and Girls Who Code, as well as a scholarship program at Wyncode coding school. Noting the well-documented lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, “as we are building from the ground up in Miami, diversity and inclusion need to be a key part from the beginning,” Haggman said.

The new office will be led by Janelle Alexander, who has been an outstanding PowerMoves Entrepreneur in Residence in New Orleans, was a Goldman Sachs executive and has Caribbean family roots, Robinson said. She and her team, including entrepreneurs-in-residence and mentors, will help local entrepreneurs refine business models and market strategies and connect them with advisors and capital to launch and scale their businesses. The office will be in a co-working center, Robinson said, but the particular space has not been selected yet.

“I’m a true believer in the mission – I have a passion for early-stage companies and for inclusive innovation,” said Alexander, who also said she has always been a huge fan of Miami. In addition to running the programs, she plans to be on the lookout for outstanding companies. “My biggest worry is not that we can’t help them, it’s that there is a great entrepreneur of color out there who I don’t know about and I am not helping.”

PowerMoves Miami will host monthly meetups across the city open to the public. In addition, PowerMoves will hold bootcamps with six weeks of virtual classroom participation, three days of intensive in-person classroom development and a demo day. PowerMoves will also hold pitch contests for seed- and Series A-round companies. From those programs, six high-growth entrepreneurs will be selected to participate in a yearlong PowerMoves Miami Fellowship, Robinson said. The fellowship includes free rent at a co-working space; “Startup 201” education, part of which will be open to a broader population; mentoring; and access to investment capital and in-kind legal, marketing and financial services.

PowerMoves Miami will launch on Feb. 15 in conjunction with Black Tech Week, from Feb. 15-20, for which Knight is the founding sponsor. For more information about the organization: powermovesnola.org.

Over the past three years, Knight has committed nearly $20 million to more than 165 projects in entrepreneurship in South Florida.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg.

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