Applications are now being accepted for the LGBTQ+ Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (LEAP), an effort to educate and empower members of the LGBTQ+ community to become successful entrepreneurs.
The free cohort-model program meets every Tuesday between March 2, 2021 and May 25, 2021 from 6-9pm with sessions providing education, mentorship, and meaningful connections. The first cohort of LEAP completed the program in 2020.
The Buckeye Flame spoke with Michael Smithson, Founder and CEO of LEAP, to get all the details on how we can encourage the next generation of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs.
There are a ton of accelerator programs out there. Tell our readers why we need an LGBTQ+ one.
I truly think this program is important because we are a special and unique community that really needs a safe space and a comfortable place to be able to be 100% ourselves and live authentically. You’re right, there are a lot of groups out there that can teach the fundamentals of business to help people be successful entrepreneurs. But none that I’m aware of do it in a space that really uplifts folks in our community in their identities, rather than their identities just being a subset of who they are. To us, [your LGBTQ+ identity]is something to wear proudly in how you conduct and lead your life and run your business.
How did the first cohort do?
All things considered, the first cohort really went amazingly well! We had 15 different participants representing 8 different companies. When we kicked off, we were able to do the program in person. Then obviously things changed moving into the pandemic. But the group really adjusted very well when we took it all virtual. I was just so pleased at the level of interactions not only with the educators and content, but also how each of the participants really supported and uplifted each other through the development of their business ideas.
What was one of those specific moments during the first cohort where you said, “Ok, we definitely need to do this again”?
At the end of process, when a lot of the groups were pitching at the Venture Out event on the Thursday before Pride, we were recording all of the groups doing their pitches. I was standing in the back of the room watching and someone walked up to me and said, “You are smiling like a proud papa.” I literally didn’t even realize how I had a perma-smile on my face.
It made me so happy just watching these groups from the beginning of the program to where they had evolved and just how confidently they could talk about their business idea, talk numbers, understand the business structure, and really have sense of knowing where to go next. I thought right then, “This prove that this works, that this is really making a difference, and that this is important to continue.”
Describe the people who see this opportunity and should think, “Yes. This is for me.”
I think especially now more than ever, the pandemic has changed things for folks. We have a lot of people in our community who have unfortunately lost their jobs. It was already a struggle to begin with for many people in the LGBTQ+ community and the pandemic has only exacerbated that. As an entrepreneur myself, I know how people think, “Well I can’t do that. How could I possibly start my own business? I have this idea, but I don’t know if I have the wherewithal to do that.” We want to change that mindset for them and show them that they can indeed do it.
Anybody who has that idea, is interested in starting their own business, is struggling to find a job where they feel comfortable to identify as themselves and live their lives authentically: they should all apply. We want to really empower them to develop their ideas. This isn’t about us only saying, “Rah rah rah! This is great!” This is about really giving participants foundational tools and support through mentorship and connections in the community at the end of it: everything from marketing and branding to attorneys to accountants to everything that they would need including financial support to help them be successful.
I’m super excited to do anything we can to support and uplift folks in our LGBTQ+ community that are thinking about taking the entrepreneurial plunge.
- Go to the LEAP website, get more information, ask any questions you might have, and apply today! The application period closes on January 29, 2021.