Tech accelerator lends Latino entrepreneurs a helping hand

150 150 Alexandra Bjerg

(photo credit: Petr Ocasek)

Silicon Valley has a reputation for being forward-thinking and on the cutting edge, yet it remains far from inclusive. Despite California’s rapidly changing demographics, diversity lags in the technology capital of the world. Minorities are vastly underrepresented in California’s tech industry and startup community, but a new accelerator targeting Latino entrepreneurs hopes to change that.

The newly created Manos Accelerator, “manos” the Spanish word for “hands,” is a start-up accelerator designed to, well, lend Latino entrepreneurs a helping hand.

I know. I know.  You’re probably thinking: “Another one?” As the number of accelerators and incubators in the Bay Area has skyrocketed, they’ve sort of become like Starbucks –there’s one on every corner. But Manos truly is unique. Given California’s surging Hispanic population, it’s surprisingly the first of its kind and certainly long overdue.

At least one Silicon Valley heavyweight agrees. Google for Entrepreneurs has teamed up with the San Jose-based accelerator to assist in the effort to increase the number of Latinos in the startup community.

Latinos in California are predicted to outnumber whites by early 2014, yet aspiring Latino entrepreneurs struggle to enter and thrive in the high-tech sector. In fact, less than one percent of venture-backed startups were founded by Latinos. “That’s unacceptable,” said Edward Avila, co-founder and CEO of Manos Accelerator.

“For decades, Silicon Valley has been known as the model for entrepreneurship,” said said Dr. Jerry Porras, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. “But there has been an ongoing gap for Latinos to be active participants of this startup ecosystem.”

What’s causing this disconnect?

Avila is quick to point out that California doesn’t have “a shortage of Latino entrepreneurs.” Hispanics are actually launching businesses at a rate twice the national average, but in industries that fall outside the tech sector.

Instead, Avila says, the gap is largely attributed to a lack of “advisors that are Latino that can be role models and can help open doors.” Whether at a meet-up or networking event of 20 people or 500, Avila said he “just didn’t see a lot of Latinos” and struggled to find mentors.

In the tech industry, who you know matters. That’s why Manos is a mentorship-driven program. “I’m trying to level the playing field [by connecting Latinos] to the brightest talent in these high-tech hubs,” said Avila.

“I’m not trying to invent an ecosystem,” stressed Avila. “I’m trying to plug Latinos into the existing ecosystem to be just another cog in the wheel. And right now we just need more cogs.”

Six to eight startup teams are currently being selected from a diverse pool of applicants hailing from nearby Palo Alto to as far away as Chile for the inaugural session beginning in September. “We’re not just looking for Latino businesses in Silicon Valley or San Jose,” said Avila. The goal for the organization is to be recognized as an international hub for Hispanic entrepreneurs.

During the three-month, hands-on education program, Latino startup teams will collaborate with fellow participants, be coached by mentors, learn from industry veterans, and be exposed to angel investors and venture capitalists. The hope is the entrepreneurs gain the skills and relationships needed to nurture and successfully grow their businesses.

The good news is, “there isn’t a lack of wanting to help,” said Avila. People from across the country, Latinos and non-Hispanics, have stepped up to help fill this leadership void. Offers to mentor, advise, and lecture have poured in. “I’m thrilled with the response rate,” said Avila.

Even A.C. Slater from “Saved by the Bell”, more commonly known as actor Mario Lopez, has taken notice, calling Manos a “game changer!” I agree. And no. It’s not just because of those famous dimples.

California continues to dominate in high-tech industries, leading the nation in tech employment last year. However, not bridging the gap between the Hispanic community and the tech community would be a major lost opportunity for growing the California economy. 

STEM jobs will account for 6 percent of all jobs in California by 2018, according to a Georgetown study. That’s a 19 percent increase from 2008. Latinos comprise a growing share of workforce, however, they account for just 18 percent of students enrolled in STEM programs in both the UC and CSU system. Nationwide, only 8 percent of STEM degrees are awarded to Latinos.

Silicon Valley can’t plug holes in the workforce with foreigners forever; Californians should be investing in developing homegrown talent. While the work of Manos Accelerator is a great step in the right direction, in order to meet the future workforce demands, California must invest in creating a robust STEM education and entrepreneurial pipeline that doesn’t leak minorities.


Alexandra Bjerg

All stories by: Alexandra Bjerg