A familiar newcomer has emerged in the startup support ecosystem, with an established entity launching a new nonprofit to help the most overlooked founders.
Jeff Cherry, managing general partner of Conscious Venture Partners (CVP), this week announced the launch of the Novella Center for Entrepreneurship by Conscious Venture Lab, Inc. (NCE) in Baltimore. With a focus on supporting entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented communities, this new organization provides access to funding, investment paths and social innovation resources to fuel the growth of mission-driven startups.
Cherry and colleagues launched the Novella Center for Entrepreneurship to provide improved funding access and investment paths for historically underfunded leaders, as well as promote social innovation and growth in mission-driven startups. It will pursue this mission in large part through licensing and leveraging the curriculum of the Conscious Venture Lab (CVL) accelerator, which now operates under the NCE’s umbrella.
“The mission of the Novella Center for Entrepreneurship is to support founders and other entrepreneurial support organizations who want to use business to create a more just, joyous, equitable, sustainable and prosperous society for all,” Cherry said via email. “We do this by training entrepreneurs how to operate a business from a stakeholder perspective as opposed to having a myopic focus on shareholder value.”
Cherry will also act as one of the Novella Center’s founding board; others include Neal Wilkinson, a partner at Kelson Investment Partners; LaToya Staten, director of impact at Fearless; and Winston Lord, CEO of Lord Strategies and cofounder of Venga.
Cherry also emphasized CVP and its mentors’ commitment to supporting historically underfunded and underestimated founders over the last decade. Some of these notable mentors include Susan Salgado, who has been recognized as one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business“; University of Virginia scholar and professor Ed Freeman; Ollen Douglas, former CFO of The Motley Fool; and Smitha Gopal, CEO of Rendia.
“We will support founders by immersing ourselves in those communities and providing opportunities for those who are neglected for all the wrong reasons,” he said.
The center’s mission echoes those throughout a range of organizations and initiatives, such as UpSurge Baltimore, the Equitech Growth Fund Bill and OSI-Baltimore. Asked about this similarity, Cherry explained: “The Novella Center and UpSurge are staunch partners looking to support each other in Baltimore’s quest to become the first Equitech startup city in America.”
Regarding OSI-Baltimore, which recently ended its 25-year existence, Cherry added that the Novella Center’s work takes a complementary but ultimately different approach to some of what the shuttered organization prioritized.
“OSI-Baltimore played a significant role in creating transformational change at the local level,” he said. “The NCE is specifically focused on the gaps that exist for entrepreneurs in the innovation ecosystem. We think our work is accretive to the types of things that OSI focused on but decidedly focused on how a reimagined role of business in society can also transform communities.”
According to Cherry, the NCE focuses on creating inclusive economic opportunities for diverse founders through three distinct theories of change: stakeholder capitalism, the ubiquity of talent and using business to create a more just society. Its flagship program, the aforementioned Conscious Venture Lab accelerator, helps entrepreneurs integrate the tenets of conscious leadership and stakeholder capitalism into their businesses while providing a structured process for business development.
According to Jeff Cherry, founder engagement with support programs can be challenging due to the sheer volume of what’s accessible: “With the number of resources available it can be difficult to know when it’s the right time.”
To help address this issue, the CVL accelerator program runs twice a year and is currently accepting applications. He also offered to speak with founders who may be interested in their programs or other resources available.
Cherry also recommended seeking out the work of CVL alumni company and 2022 Technical.ly RealLIST Startup EcoMap Technologies to understand the broader innovation ecosystem in Baltimore. He noted that EcoMap is “doing the important work of mapping startup ecosystems and providing a framework that founders can use to understand which resources are best suited for them at their specific stage of development.”
Otherwise, the Novella Center for Entrepreneurship plans to work with teams of founders who have a minimum viable product and are ready to explore the most effective cultural structure for their idea. Cherry said that the NCE, which is named after his mother, now aims to broaden its programming into select industries and develop a pre-CVL curriculum.
“Our objectives are to broaden our programming to include industry-specific accelerator programs, like smart textiles, life sciences and fintech; create a self-paced, fully online curriculum as a precursor to the Conscious Venture Lab accelerator program; and impact more than 500 founders in the next five years,” he said, adding: “We support talented founders, no matter where they come from or what they look like.”
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