Diversity & Inclusion
Business development / Communities / Entrepreneurs / Funding

How Ascender is supporting Pittsburgh’s Latinx founders during Hispanic Heritage Month

"These kinds of entrepreneurs are constantly trying to succeed," Executive Director Nadyli Nuñez said, "so we just want to say, 'We see you, we support you, and we're here to help.'"

Pittsburgh Latinx entrepreneurs. (Image courtesy of Ascender)
In a time when racial equity-focused programs are under attack, Pittsburgh startup booster Ascender is throwing support and dollars behind Latinx business owners.

Ahead of Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins Sept. 15, Ascender has launched the Mini-Becas, Acelera Tu Negocio Con Ascender Latinx Mini-Grants Program with the goal of supporting Latinx entrepreneurs in Allegheny County.

Ascender Executive Director Nadyli Nuñez told Technical.ly the East Liberty-based organization will award five mini-grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 to Latinx-owned businesses and startups, plus an additional $500 mini-grant to an aspiring youth Latinx entrepreneur.

Ascender’s leaders thought now would be the best time to launch such a program, Nuñez said, because although Latinx entrepreneurs contribute a great deal to the economy — an estimated 3 million people are employed by Latinx-owned businesses — they continue to struggle to raise capital, totaling less than 1% of all venture capital. By offering a new source of funding, Ascender hopes to remind Latinx founders that their hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“When they are looking for dollars, they have to jump through hoops,” Nuñez said. “There’s a lot of biases. These kinds of entrepreneurs are constantly trying to succeed so we just want to say, ‘We see you, we support you, and we’re here to help.'”

Ascender program participants. (Courtesy photo)

Ascender plans to announce the grant recipients on Oct. 14. Anyone interested in the funding has until Oct. 1 to make their case for why they deserve it via a two-minute video submission, in which they should lay out how receiving a grant will help them meet a business goal. Nuñez said Ascender aims to complement the work other Pittsburgh orgs have done to support the local Latinx community.

“We want to be able to be part of supporting wonderful organizations like Casa San Jose, and the Latino Community Center and even the [Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation] in Beechview, who are doing incredible work to support these entrepreneurs,” she said. “We want to be able to add some dollars to that as well.”

In the aftermath of the spring Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action, not only does not everyone see the benefit of such programs, but others have gone as far as calling funds that focus on minority founders discriminatory. Recently, Atlanta-based venture capital firm Fearless Fund was sued by conservative activists who claimed that by only offering grants to Black woman business owners, the fund was excluding white business owners.

Ascender program participants. (Courtesy Photo)

At the moment, Nuñez isn’t concerned that Ascender’s program could come under similar scrutiny. More than that, she said, grant programs like the Fearless Fund and Mini-Becas, Acelera Tu Negocio Con Ascender only exist to increase equity in entrepreneurship funding.

“I think these organizations and these funds try and level the playing fields, where discrimination against these groups are happening every day,” Nuñez said. “Ascender supports all kinds of entrepreneurs, regardless of race, gender, age. But what we understand that the population of Pittsburgh is just majority white, non-Hispanic. [It’s important] for communities like the Latinx entrepreneurs and Black entrepreneurs to increase their chance of receiving funding because the stats show they need it.”

Ascender program participants. (Courtesy Photo)

Due to a partnership with Bakery Square, this grant program will be offered during Hispanic Heritage Month for the next three years. Nuñez added that even if you’re a Latinx entrepreneur who isn’t selected for funding this time around, you shouldn’t be disheartened, because Ascender could have opportunities for you down the road.

“If you’ve got more going on for you than you realize, it would be our honor to know about what you’re working on,” the executive director said. “If you win this time, amazing. If you don’t win this time, regardless, we will keep you in mind for future opportunities, whether we might be hiring you for an upcoming event [or] we might be sending you other mini-grant programs.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Ascender

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