April 11, 2023

BK-XL, The Largest BIPOC Accelerator, Announces Inaugural Cohort Of Founders

BK-XL, a new Brooklyn-based early-stage startup accelerator for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) founders, has announced its inaugural cohort of 12 startups.

With each startup receiving up to $500,000 each, BK-XL’s capital is on par with other big-name accelerators like Y Combinator, and, by relative investment size, is the largest BIPOC-focused accelerator in the US.

Clara Wu Tsai, a Brooklyn Nets owner and Vice Chair of BSE Global, created the accelerator in partnership with Visible Hands, a VC firm for underrepresented founders.

“We created BK-XL to identify and support the most innovative BIPOC founders in this country and to show the rest of the venture capital industry just how many BIPOC founders are out there with great ideas and businesses waiting for someone to step up and believe in them,” said Clara Wu Tsai in a press release.

“I think the overwhelming number of applicants we received — over 2,000 — sends that message loud and clear. I’m excited to meet this talented group of founders and work with them to help their businesses thrive in Brooklyn.”

Meet BK-XL’s inaugural cohort

  • Tai Adaya: Habit,a skincare brand making next generation sunscreen products
  • Nash Ahmed: Undock,a calendar automation tool that syncs with email
  • Todd Baldwin, Sarah Nesheim: Crafted,auser-generated content platform dedicated to food and beverage brands
  • Jordan Bradley, Paulina Vo: Highnote,a cloud collaboration platform for audio files
  • Emmanuel Brown, Day Edwards: Churchspace, an Airbnb-like booking platform for churches
  • Jen Chiang: Opal,Smart ring that provides discreet safety and protection
  • Joy Fan: re/tell, a B2B retail booking platform
  • Sarah Lee, Tejasvi Desai, Anna Bailey: Relavo, a medical device for kidney failure patients to receive safer and more accessible home dialysis
  • Elijah Lubala, Tuma,software-based tap-to-pay point of sale for African merchants
  • Jacob Makuvire: SWYE 360 Learning, a machine learning tool to assess edtech ROI and outcomes
  • Amadeu Tolentino: Preneura mobile-first management tool for solopreneurs
  • Sergio Villasenor: Drooler, a web3 marketplace that enables consumers to buy & sell sports cards with zero fees

Each startup will participate in a 10-week immersion program based out of Brooklyn’s Industry City. The founders will also access 1:1 mentorship through a partnership with Bolster and ongoing advisory and support from investors and operators at Blue Pool Capital, Visible Hands, BSE Global, the Brooklyn Nets, Barclays Center, and others.

“Having founded my company in the pandemic years, finding a solid family of fellow founders has been difficult,” said Jordan Bradley, co-founder and CEO of Highnote.

“As a Black male CEO alongside a queer, Asian-American female co-founder, being connected to a vetted cohort of high-performing and diverse builders — specifically Black and Women founders and operators — to learn from and grow with would be incredibly valuable.”

Backing BIPOC founders beyond 2020

Following George Floyd’s murder funding for Black startups nearly tripled from 2020 to 2021. However, that funding is already nearly back down to pre-2020 levels. Last year, VC funding dropped by 36% overall but fell by 45% for Black founders.

In New York, Black founders remain both underrepresented and underfunded. Only 3.5% of businesses in New York City are Black-owned, despite Black people making up 22% of the city’s population.

Meanwhile, the BIPOC talent pool within the tech sector is stronger in New York City than in other major markets, with Black and Hispanic workers making up 21% of its tech sector, compared to less than 10% in the San Francisco Bay area and in Boston.

Brooklyn Net owners and Social Justice Fund founders Joe and Clara Wu Tsai. Credit: Vincent Carchietta

The BK-XL accelerator is part of the $50 million Social Justice Fund Wu Tsai and her husband established in 2020 to drive economic empowerment and close racial gaps in Brooklyn.

As a pilot accelerator, BK-XL’s success will be largely be judged by the follow-on funding the founders secure. There will be an opportunity to pitch to other venture capital firms.

Samara Linton

Community Manager at POCIT | Co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2022), and co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020)