Design and marketing consultancy R/GA is expanding its Venture Studios program with the launch of a new Coalition Venture Studio focused specifically on supporting Black-led and Black-owned startups.
The initiative is led by R/GA Entrepreneur in Residence Davyeon Ross, a Black entrepreneur who founded sports analytics company ShotTracker. The startup (which is backed by TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon, specifically Verizon Ventures) was part of R/GA’s Dodgers Accelerator, and Ross attributed much of ShotTracker’s success to connections made by the agency.
“From that perspective, I got this firsthand view of the power of R/GA Ventures,” Ross told me.
To participate in the Coalition Venture Studio, startups must be majority Black-owned or have a Black CEO, CTO or board chair. However, Ross said that it won’t be using a traditional application process, and it won’t be limited to a handful of startups.
“It’s not going to be cohorts or batches of companies,” he explained. “The thought process is, it’s an ongoing initiative [ … ] A big piece of this is, it’s not an application process, it’s a registration process. Once we work with R/GA to vet the companies, we can start positioning them for projects within the R/GA agency.”
In other words, assuming a company qualifies, they’ll become eligible for three main kinds of support through the Coalition program — creative capital (consulting, design, copywriting and other services), relationship capital (introductions to what Ross described as R/GA’s “network of incredible blue chip clients”) and financial capital (which could come from a syndicate led by R/GA Ventures).
This launch comes after last year’s protests over the killing of George Floyd led to a broader conversation about race and representation in startups and venture capital. Ross said he’s encouraged by that conversation — but at the same time, only 1% of VC money was deployed with Black entrepreneurs last year, and there’s a risk that the industry could move on without addressing systemic issues.
“As a society, we tend to be very short term,” he said. “We say, ‘Oh my goodness, that happened,’ and then we go about our lives [ … ] That’s why I was excited that R/GA reached out to make this commitment. Part of this is about accountability, part of this is about easy options for folks to get involved, part of this is about storytelling. A lot of companies made statements, so this is just providing them with vehicles to be able to help.”
To that end, Coalition has already signed up a number of partners, including several from the startup and VC world like Andreessen Horowitz’s TxO Initiative, Harlem Capital, Collab Capital, Ohub, Mac Venture Capital and Gingerbread Capital. R/GA’s parent company IPG is also a partner, as are the Dodgers and Elysian Park (home to Dodger Stadium).
Eligible startups can register on the Coalition website.