5 Questions With Melissa Pegus, Managing Director of Techstars Atlanta Powered by J.P. Morgan

Melissa Pegus has been chosen as the Managing Director for Techstars Atlanta Powered by J.P. Morgan, the latest accelerator to open up in the city. 

The new program, backed by an $80 million investment by J.P. Morgan, will support diverse entrepreneurs across the country. While the program is open to founders of all backgrounds, it is designed to provide equitable access to funding and support for Black, Hispanic and Latino, Indigenous American, and Pacific Islander entrepreneurs.

In the first half of 2021, Black entrepreneurs received just 1.2 percent of U.S. venture capital funding. Additional data show that Latino founders raised only 2 percent of U.S. venture capital investments in 2021.

This partnership seeks to help bridge the racial and ethnic wealth divide through Techstars’ unique startup accelerators that provide access to capital, one-on-one mentorship, and customized programming for early-stage entrepreneurs.   

The new JP Morgan-powered program will run twice a year, with the inaugural cohort launching this September. The Atlanta accelerator is launching in tandem with similar programs in Chicago, Detroit, Miami, and Washington D.C., with additional cities joining in 2023. 

Below Melissa had a sitdown with Techstars to discuss what she’s looking for in startups.

What are you looking for in startups for Techstars Atlanta Powered by J.P. Morgan accelerator?

It all starts with the founding team: people are the core of every business. I’m looking for entrepreneurs who are purpose-driven and want to make a big difference in the world. However, vision alone isn’t enough. I’m also looking for fearlessness and self-awareness, key traits that define great leaders and help them build great teams that in turn create successful businesses. This accelerator has a strong vertical thesis that focuses on Commerce, consumers, and the Creator Economy. The accelerator’s thesis is shaped by my experiences, expertise, and a world-class roster of mentors and advisors that will all come together to support our founders’ success.

What are some of the biggest learnings from your career and the entrepreneurial journey that you bring to being a Techstars Managing Director?

Two words: strategic partnerships. Startups are typically lean on resources and by necessity must be scrappy. Partnerships can have a transformative impact on your business regardless of what industry or business model you’re pursuing. An emphasis on strategic partnerships can help a company in a number of ways:

  1. Building brand awareness
  2. Establishing credibility
  3. Acquiring customers and users at scale
  4. Enriching product capabilities
  5. Expanding into new markets
  6. Courting investor interest
  7. Providing a gateway for future acquisition

03. What is your favorite thing about the Atlanta startup scene?

Atlanta is truly a startup utopia, ripe with all of the resources any founder needs to launch and grow their business. The three things every startup needs to be successful is access to capitalcustomers, and talent. Atlanta offers all three of these things in spades. 

Capital

The growing VC ecosystem in Atlanta is incredibly active. From a wave of successful exits that have created an incredible roster of prominent angel investors, to a robust ecosystem of early-stage venture capital firms, and an influx of later-stage funding from private capital firms coming to Atlanta, it’s possible to secure the funds you need to launch, grow, and scale your startup right here.

Customers

Atlanta has the third-highest concentration of Fortune 100 company headquarters of any city in the US. Corporate heavyweights such as Cox Enterprises, The Home Depot, Delta Airlines, The Coca-Cola Company, The Southern Company, and more are committed to investing in local innovation and building a thriving ecosystem. Three material ways that Atlanta’s corporate partners are investing in our startup ecosystem:

  • The establishment of corporate innovation centers. Atlanta has more than 35 corporate innovation centers that serve as collaborative hubs for tech talent and innovation resources
  • Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) where corporate funds are invested directly in to startup companies
  • Startup supplier programs are designed to engage local startups as technology and services providers.

Talent

Atlanta has a high density of world-class research & education institutions (Emory, Morehouse, Spelman, Georgia Tech, and more.) that matriculate entrepreneurial talent in fields such as engineering, product, sales, and marketing talent every year. Finally, When it comes to diversity in tech, Atlanta is the standard-bearer in the nation. Atlanta has 52% more underrepresented technology workers and 27% more women technology workers than comparably-sized metros.

04. What does our partner J.P. Morgan bring to the accelerator?

Startups face challenges at every stage. However, financial challenges can abruptly end a startup’s vision for their product, team, or growth. J.P. Morgan has the expertise, financial solutions, and network to support the disruptors of today and leaders of tomorrow. This program represents Techstars and J.P. Morgan’s belief that diversity and inclusion are the catalysts of innovation and growth. In supporting early-stage startups, J.P. Morgan believes it can help build a future with stronger companies led by underrepresented, diverse founders.

For J.P. Morgan, it’s about changing the entire ecosystem because while talent is distributed equally, the opportunity is not. Backing diverse founders leads to reinvestment in their communities and expanding access for others. J.P. Morgan has made longstanding, large-scale investments in cities to support local initiatives, entrepreneurs, and the environment with over $30 billion committed to advancing racial equity in 2020 and $2.5 trillion towards green initiatives by 2030.

J.P. Morgan’s partnership with Techstars shows its commitment to supporting inclusive accelerators that create opportunities for diverse, early-stage founders. As a part of this partnership, J.P. Morgan will offer an integrated suite of services to founders in this accelerator that extend beyond the 13-week program. This includes, but is not limited to, access to banking, wealth management, and advisory solutions accessible through their local and commercial banking specialists.

05. What does Give First mean to you and how do you apply it in your work and life?

One of my core values is to be a rising tide. I truly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. My successes are in large part due to the incredible support and guidance of mentors and advocates who I’ve met on my professional journey. The alignment of my core values with the Techstars’ #givefirst ethos was a key factor in my decision to join this incredible team. Very few things in life are zero-sum and creating opportunities and pathways for others can have a profound multiplier effect that is at the heart of driving innovation and global impact.

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Abbianca Makoni

Abbianca Makoni is a content executive and writer at POCIT! She has years of experience reporting on critical issues affecting diverse communities around the globe.

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