The Founder Fellowship Supports Urban Tech Startup Founders from Underrepresented Backgrounds and Looks to Build More Equity in Tech
BROOKLYN, NY—New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and Newlab unveiled the eight companies selected to participate in the inaugural cohort of the Founder Fellowship program. This initiative will provide urban tech startup founders from underrepresented backgrounds with the resources to build and scale their companies in NYC.
The program builds upon the Urbantech NYC partnership between NYCEDC and Newlab and was developed in partnership with NYCEDC’s Venture Access NYC Initiative. The companies will benefit from access to Newlab’s 84,000 square foot space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, its vast member community and extended global network, and on-site product realization resources. The program includes 12 months of curated programming, introductions to strategic partners, collaborators, investors, office hours with subject matter experts, dedicated pitch feedback sessions, and mentorship opportunities.
“New York City is the global epicenter of innovation—a testament to our City's bold and creative entrepreneurs,” said NYCEDC Chief Strategy Officer Lindsay Greene. “As the City's vibrant urban tech ecosystem continues to rapidly grow, it's of the utmost importance that we ensure innovators from diverse backgrounds are able to fully participate in and benefit from the opportunities available. By providing founders from underrepresented backgrounds with the support they need to actualize their potential, Founder Fellowship is a key step toward creating a more diverse tech community and a smarter, more sustainable New York City.”
“Innovative entrepreneurship is the backbone of New York City’s diverse economy. This is an incredible first step to level the playing field for traditionally underrepresented founders in the tech industry,” said New York City Deputy Mayor for Economic & Workforce Development Maria Torres-Springer. “I am inspired by the ingenuity of the chosen cohort. The Founder Fellowship will go a long way toward shaping a more inclusive economy by leveraging New York City’s access to talent, resources, and ideas to solve complex, urban problems.”
“This announcement marks yet another milestone in our longstanding partnership with the NYCEDC, which over the last five years has focused on working with entrepreneurs who are applying technology to help create a more resilient, sustainable and equitable future for New York City,” said Newlab Vice President of Product & Programs Shaina Horowitz. “The entrepreneurs selected to participate in the inaugural cohort of Founder Fellowship are a group of incredibly talented, visionary innovators, and we are excited to work with, learn from, and support them as they build and grow their businesses at Newlab.”
Through Venture Access NYC, NYCEDC is aiming to build a more inclusive tech startup ecosystem in New York City by bringing together investors, founders, and industry leaders. Founder Fellowship, the first Venture Access program in partnership with Newlab, is helping make the City’s technology ecosystem more equitable and inclusive by increasing access for founders of underrepresented backgrounds across race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, thought, culture, and economic experience, to the resources needed to grow their businesses locally.
The following eight companies were selected from a competitive pool of 70 applicants through a rigorous review process that included input from NYCEDC, Tech:NYC, Black Entrepreneurs NYC and Newlab. All of the companies are pre-seed or seed stage, and span various urban tech focus areas including clean energy, mobility, wearables, and proptech.
- The Drivers Cooperative: A driver-owned rideshare platform with the mission of building community wealth through worker ownership, transit tech innovation, and a just, green transition of the for-hire vehicle industry.
- Farm to Flame Energy: Specializing in affordable and renewable electricity and heating solutions for commercial-scale buildings using recycled biomass waste material. Its biomass energy production can be performed on site at any facility using the client's biomass waste and it produces a carbon-neutral fuel without creating harmful smoke or odor.
- Hydronomy: Developing a solar-powered atmospheric water generator that serves as an alternative, sustainable water source ensuring equitable access and enhanced quality, for marginalized communities and off grid water consumers.
- Make it Black: A circular design company that gives second life to unsellable colors, prints, and stained clothing by transforming garments into fashion’s favorite shade - black. Make It Black is developing a pioneering blackout color technology for pre- and post-consumer garment waste; the world’s first circular garment overdye technology.
- REDIST: A technology-enabled company dedicated to unlocking public financing to get buildings built and improved. They’re democratizing access by assembling hard to find data and building powerful software and solutions that simplify processes and reduce the barriers to building together. This especially impacts the lives of Americans living and working in underserved communities.
- re/tell: Creating space for connection – where any brand can access retail today. A tech-enabled marketplace turning “excess into access” by offering digital-native brands and displaced small businesses the opportunity to utilize unused space into marketable “footprint” to tell their story.
- SXD: Building a novel design-tech software solution that turns designer and brands’ leftover or wasted fabrics into beautiful, efficient zero fabric waste clothing that costs about 55% less to produce.
- Wearworks: A haptic platform company building products and experiences that communicate information through touch. Its first product, Wayband®, is a navigation app and device for those with visual impairment. Wearworks reimagines skin as a high-fidelity communications channel capable of providing information in a more intuitive and less obtrusive way.
NYCEDC and Newlab’s Urbantech NYC partnership launched more than five years ago to support the City’s vision for a sustainable, equitable future. Last Fall, the partners announced the launch of the Resilient Energy Studio, a program to advance energy storage capacity across NYC through entrepreneur-led pilot projects with industry leaders, innovators and community organizations; and the expansion of the HE3AT program, initially launched in 2019, which creates opportunities for public high school students from diverse backgrounds and underserved communities to become part of the technology, innovation, and sustainability ecosystem in NY through entrepreneurship, mentorship, and project-based learning.
The Founder Fellowship program is the latest Newlab initiative that aims to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in the technology industry, following the Innovator Spotlight initiative, a partnership with Bank of America launched in 2021 to support underrepresented entrepreneurs with the power to apply transformative technology to things that matter.
Technology startups led by entrepreneurs from historically underrepresented groups face significant obstacles that threaten to leave them out of the startup economy. Funding to underrepresented founders has increased in recent years, but still represents a fraction of the $329.5 billion in funding raised by U.S. startups in 2021. Nationally, startups led by Black and Latinx founders generally receive less than 3 percent of total venture capital raised (in the Greater New York area, Black and Latinx founders receive around 5 percent of total venture funding in the region). In 2021, startups led solely by women founders received about 2 percent of funding.
About New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC)
New York City Economic Development Corporation creates shared prosperity across New York City’s five boroughs by strengthening neighborhoods and creating good jobs. NYCEDC works with and for communities to provide them with the resources they need to thrive, and we invest in projects that increase sustainability, support job growth, develop talent, and spark innovation to strengthen the City’s competitive advantage. To learn more about our work and initiatives, please visit us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Newlab is a community of experts and innovators applying transformative technology to solve the world’s biggest challenges. Newlab membership and studios bring together entrepreneurs, engineers, inventors and industry leaders to create sustainable solutions and enterprises. Newlab employs technologies including robotics, AI and material science to transform what matters most—health, environment, media, cities, and infrastructure.