Boston venture capital firm partners with Google for entrepreneur education

One of the world’s largest tech companies is working with one of Boston’s newest venture capital firms to diversify the pool of local startup talent.

Google and Visible Hands, a two-year-old venture capital firm dedicated to helping underrepresented founders, announced Tuesday that they will jointly run a program to help Latino entrepreneurs build new businesses. Dubbed VHLX, the idea is to train 20 selected participants on the ins and outs of starting a startup, building a business, and finding funding. Applications will be accepted until June 24.

While about 12% of Massachusetts residents are Latino, companies with Latino founders accounted for just 3.9% of venture capital invested in the state between 2015 and August 2020, according to a report by Crunchbase. This was a higher percentage than in California (1.2%) and New York (2.2%), but still far from representative.

“There’s a real need to make sure we have inclusive opportunities available,” said Yasmin Cruz Ferrine, general partner and co-founder of Visible Hands.

Visible Hands is a relatively new player on the Boston scene. Two years ago, Cruz Ferrine, who got into community investing for seven years at John Hancock Financial Services, founded the company with Daniel Acheampong, who advised startups at MIT, and Justin Kang, who was the executive director of City Awake, a Boston company. Chamber of Commerce effort to help young professionals.

When the company opened applications for 35 spots in its first startup accelerator last year, it received 911 applications. For his second promotion, 1,413 candidates applied.

“The demand and number of entrepreneurs looking for support, we really can’t meet with our flagship program,” said Cruz Ferrine. “We have a backlog of talent there.”

Other efforts are also underway with a similar mission. Earlier this year, the New England Venture Capital Association launched its program, Hack.Diversity, which offers people of color fellowships with local tech companies.

The new VHLX program, which is virtual and will take place in a mix of Spanish and English, will last 20 weeks with the aim of helping the future founders build an initial product and attract early customers or users. Participants also receive a $10,000 stipend and a potential investment, at the end of the program, of up to $150,000.

“Access to capital is the fuel that drives startups forward, access to the community keeps them going, and access to mentorship helps them navigate the road,” wrote Kaili Emmrich, Head of America du Nord for Google for Startups, in a blog post accompanying the VHLX. announcement. “But access to the resources needed to grow one’s business is still not fairly distributed.”

Locally, Daniel Navarro from the Google for Startups team in Cambridge is working with Visible Hands on the program.

One aspect of the program will be weekly cafecitos, or informal coffee meetings, with Latino founders who have built businesses with at least $1 million in revenue. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Cruz Ferrine. “That weekly dose of inspiration and real discussion will be a staple.”

Google will also hold workshops teaching its strategy for setting benchmarks it calls “goals and key results,” known as OKRs in the tech community.

VHLX will include help with a sometimes overlooked aspect of running a startup: mental well-being. Clinical psychologists and wellness coaches will work with entrepreneurs to create a holistic startup life management plan. The plan will help them “navigate the highs and sometimes the lows of entrepreneurship,” Cruz Ferrine said.

Since part of the program will overlap with Hispanic Heritage Month in the fall, attendees will also have themed celebrations. “We’re going to honor the Latinos who came before us and eat the food and dance and play the music that inspires us and connects to our cultural heritage,” she added.

Aaron Pressman can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ampressman.

Evelyn C. Tobin