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Digital startup accelerator targets minorities, women

Whatever entrepreneurial renaissance is happening, there is still a need to encourage more women and minorities to climb on the bandwagon.

Tamar-Melissa Huggins decided to tackle this issue first-hand after watching an episode of the Black in America television show that featured the NewME Accelerator, which supports minority entrepreneurs in the United States.

Inspired, Ms. Huggins created the Toronto-based Driven Accelerator Group, a digital startup accelerator for businesses led by minorities – women, African-Canadians and South Asians.

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"Driven Accelerator was created to bridge the gap we see in the tech community when it comes to minority founders," said its founder and chief executive officer in an interview.

"I feel we are offering something unique and different because we are trying to provide exposure to minority founders, and encourage minorities to start the next Facebook or the next Twitter. I have always had a passion to help other people when it comes to business, and I felt starting the accelerator was the best thing to do."

Driven will operate a 12-week program that will provide five companies with guidance on business and prototype development and the preparation of a pitch for a demo day that will cap things off.

Ms. Huggins said she is interested in people who have created mobile computing, Web-based and cloud computing startups. Driven will take a 4-per-cent equity stake in each company that is part of the program.

"These are people who understand their specific market and have a prototype, but need the assistance on the business end of it," said Ms. Huggins, who has a public relations and digital background.

Each company will also receive assistance from a team of mentors that includes Ceridian Dayforce president David Ossip, technology journalist Amber MacArthur, Social Media Group founder Maggie Fox and marketing executive April Dunford. A mentor will make a presentation to a company about a particular topic, as well as participate in an informal dinner series during which entrepreneurs will have the chance to ask questions and share their opinions.

Driven, which will be housed at the Foundery co-working space in downtown Toronto, has not raised money yet to provide financial help to companies that join the accelerator.

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"I am looking for the right partner to come on board – someone who believes in the vision and wants to build diversity in the startup community," Ms. Huggins said.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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