Jackson Ward Collective founders launch new business accelerator


From left, JWC Foundation founders Melody Short, Rasheeda Creighton and Kelli Lemon. The foundation, which offers resources to black entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses, plans to launch a new accelerator program in September. (Photo courtesy of JWC Foundation)

Shortly after bringing their incubator program under the umbrella of a new nonprofit, the founders of Jackson Ward Collective are rolling out another new black-owned small business support program.

The collective’s Community Business Academy accelerator program is slated to launch with its first class in September. The program is intended to teach black business owners or aspiring black business owners the basics of running their own show with training on topics like marketing, financing and bookkeeping.

“It’s a 12-week program that fills the gap of programming for helping folks understand what it really takes to run a business. That’s something that the programming of the ecosystem does not cover in a lot of detail,” co-founder Rasheeda Creighton said.

The business accelerator comes as a new offering of the JWC Foundation, a local nonprofit founded by Creighton, Melody Short and Kelli Lemon in April to connect black business owners with professional resources. The nonprofit’s acronym stands for “Jackson Ward Collective,” which is also the name of the business incubator the trio founded in 2020 and now operates as an arm of the newly formed nonprofit.

Creighton said the Community Business Academy is aimed at black owners of so-called “main street businesses,” which she defined as retail stores, hospitality businesses, professional services and personal services, but black entrepreneurs in any industry can participate in the program.

Program fees will be charged on a sliding scale not to exceed $250 per participant, which JWC Foundation is able to do through sponsorships from Altira, Capital One and Dominion Energy, according to a foundation news release. The plan is to have no more than 20 participants in the annual program at a time.

The program curriculum is licensed by JWC Foundation from New Jersey-based Rising Tide Capital, a business development nonprofit. The program consists of weekly, in-person sessions that will be held at the 1717 Innovation Center in Shockoe Bottom.

Creighton said that they were prepared to develop an in-house program after identifying the need, but were drawn to the idea of licensing an existing curriculum in part because it fit the JWC Foundation ethos.

“For the collective piece of our programming, we consider ourselves to be a hub. If there is something that is proven, that is working, that is effective, we would rather have a partnership than reinvent the wheel,” Creighton said.

Short said her group got connected to Rising Tide through a North Carolina nonprofit in their network. About two years of conversations took place before the curriculum was licensed.

“We identified the gap early on,” Short said. “They have partners across the country and they have a history of success.”

The foundation declined to share how much it pays to license the Rising Tide playbook.

Short said the foundation is the only organization in the Richmond region to license the Rising Tide curriculum. The foundation plans to run the program twice a year, with cohorts that would kick off in September and then again in March.

JWC Foundation plans to hold a series of information sessions about the accelerator program on June 28, June 30 and July 14.

The foundation’s creation came about in response to feedback from potential donors and opens the door to an expanded pool of funders to help power the foundation’s growing list of activities.

“Many funders in the region wanted to provide capital support but in order to do so, some organizations could not move forward with the support through our original model in which we had a fiscal agent. Their respective organizations required us to be a 501(c)3,” said Short, who is the foundation’s director of programs.

Creighton is the nonprofit’s executive director. Lemon is on the nonprofit’s board. The foundation is based in the Gather coworking office in the Arts District.

In addition to the Jackson Ward Collective incubator and the upcoming accelerator program, the foundation recently unveiled Blck Street, which is the brand name for JWC Foundation’s public-facing event programming aimed at black entrepreneurs.

The foundation plans to hold the inaugural Blck Street Conference at the Collaboratory of Virginia in early August. The conference will feature panel discussions and breakout sessions intended to help entrepreneurs learn about how to find investors, how to plan for succession and other topics.

JWC Foundation’s upcoming accelerator program comes amid a recent wave of new business development programs in Richmond.

Activation Capital recently completed its pilot startup development program aimed at minority entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurship development group announced earlier this month that it and pilot partner Opportunity Hub invested $50,000 in local shoe refurbishment marketplace Sudsy Soles, which won a pitch competition that closed out the program.

Bon Secours has expanded its decade-old Supporting East End Entrepreneurship Development program to include Manchester-based businesses.


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