Unlocking opportunities: DNNL’s Launchpad paves the way for inclusive entrepreneurship

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Startups claim to improve our lives and change representation compared to major companies.
Big companies are progressing more with diversity and inclusion than startups whose leadership fits cultural standards.

Representation has declined in the Dutch tech sector compared to the European tech environment, making it harder to find diverse leaders.
The Dutch New Narrative Lab (DNNL) improves diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the Dutch entrepreneurial ecosystem.

A Diversity Exploration by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) led to the DNNL.

In response to a 2020 article on boardroom racism, Ruben Brave, a serial tech entrepreneur, investor, and multi-board member, was asked how the government could improve diversity and inclusion (D&I) in innovative entrepreneurship, including startups, scale-ups, and corporate ventures.

Although Brave expected 20 conversations, this exploration involved “more than 350 personal and intense conversations.”

“These conversations included not only people from diverse ethnic backgrounds but also women from non-traditional backgrounds, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, and people with diverse talents and perspectives,” he says.

These interactions yielded numerous proposals to harness entrepreneurial talent and improve finance access.

Brave shows that capital includes cultural capital (language skills needed for financing applications), symbolic capital (access to greater visibility and recognition for achievements), and social capital (access to networks with new resources and knowledge).

Surprisingly, the government has alleviated the Dutch tech ecosystem’s diversity gap.

It does it by building a data infrastructure to measure talent exclusion and empowering individuals to take the initiative.

To promote equity and opportunity, Brave states, “The exploration underscored the need for greater transparency in tracking progress toward D&I within organizations, particularly those receiving public funds and government support.”

Dutch D&I in Digital Benchmark 2023 shows how firms and the Dutch ICT sector have done little to improve diversity and inclusion.

The benchmark is enlightening since Dutch tech women fell by two percentage points from 38% in 2022 to 37% in 2023.

The fact that only 25% of managers included D&I objectives or KPIs in their performance measurements suggests that this area needs a comprehensive overhaul.

Brave attributes the benchmark report’s representation decline to implicit prejudice in decision-making, culture, and underrepresented groups’ retreats.

While hiring practices, educational gaps, company traditions, and non-representative leadership can be addressed, Brave worries about the “non-inclusive narrative around innovative entrepreneurship which leads to retention challenges, gender disparities and disconnects between networks of groups within society.”

Thus, DNNL is boosting access to creative entrepreneurship for all underrepresented groups in Dutch companies and tech.

“DNNL’s mission is rooted in recognising the innovative power of diversity and inclusion,” Brave says.

Innovation challenges like Deloitte Fast 50 Rising Star, ESDP Innovation Challenge, Women of the Future – 50 Rising Stars in ESG in London, Impactful Grower Award NLGroeit/Erasmus University – Top 250 Growth Companies 2023, Women in Tech Awards Europe 2023, SheLeads 2023, and Amsterdam Science & Innovation Award raise awareness of underrepresented groups.

Brave says, “These challenges provide a platform for showcasing the work and innovations of diverse entrepreneurs.”

DNNL’s entrepreneurship lab mentors develop, valorize, and match investment for minority founders’ ventures.

The project hosts DNNL conferences to connect stakeholders and share inspirational entrepreneurship.

It engages with the OECD to use underrepresented founder feedback to identify ecosystem constraints and inform policymakers at various levels.

Brave claims that DNNL’s multi-pronged strategy and partnership with many stakeholders and organizations help underrepresented groups in the Dutch startup and tech ecosystem find opportunity, exposure, and inclusivity.

From seed capital regulation to inclusive procurement legislation to a national action plan for inclusive entrepreneurship, DNNL wants substantial changes to benefit disadvantaged groups.

DNNL Launchpad, a 12-week pre-accelerator program in Amsterdam, is its latest step.

DNNL Launchpad comes when it’s clear that only a handful can succeed in the Netherlands or Europe.

“Given the large number of economic, environmental, and social challenges we face today, we simply need more people to be able to get access to the resources they need to help solve them,” says Entrepreneurship Lab & Launchpad Director Kimberly Ofori.

According to Dutch New Narrative Lab partner Ofori, a vast pool of untapped potential and talent comprises the most resilient founders, a vital characteristic for any creator.

Unlike Silicon Valley’s unicorn model, the Launchpad will make entrepreneurs and their firms into camels, which can survive harsh conditions.

Ofori states, “Startup camel enterprises offer businesses in all industries and sectors valuable lessons on how to survive and grow in adverse conditions.”
She says they use balanced growth, a long-term view, and diversification in the business strategy.

Ofori said DNNL Launchpad will focus on entrepreneurs with compelling business cases, working business models, autonomous sales, and revenue-first models as a traction-driven accelerator.
She says our concept is to let your clients be your first investors.

The Launchpad will also house entrepreneurs who chose entrepreneurship “to solve a bigger problem that has affected them personally.”

“We [DNNL] believe,” Ofori explains, “strong founders build strong businesses.” She believes the Launchpad would tightly focus on the founder’s journey through developing personal and entrepreneurial skills.

The initiative will help selected innovators sharpen their proposition, scale, and grow revenue.

It’s difficult, but Ofori says the response has been “overwhelmingly” good.

She explains, “Most startup operators recognise the gap we are looking to fill, and we have already been approached by other accelerators to discuss collaborations.”
She adds that founders have largely liked the program’s revenue-first approach and high-quality support while building on their terms.

Ofori will address entrepreneurs’ questions in a 15-minute intake before they apply to Launchpad to make the process easier.

After a formal application, selected founders are invited for a final interview. Ofori says they’re accepting founders on a rolling basis through September 22, 2023.

Ofori prioritizes founding team diversity in Launchpad businesses.

She claims they have monitored established startup environments like the US and found that diverse teams beat non-diverse teams almost everywhere.

DNNL considers gender, cultural background, work and life experience, physical abilities, and more.

She explains, “Diverse teams will solve problems that affect a larger group of the population because they represent them, and all these different perspectives on how to make things better for everyone.”

DNNL examines each founder’s biography, background, and uniqueness to achieve this diversity goal.

“Within their teams we will look for alignment in vision and purpose but coming from different backgrounds and what makes them uniquely qualified for their roles,” she adds.

Ofori wants everyone to know that DNNL Launchpad can build the businesses the world needs together.

She wants to hear from founders of a more-than-profit firm with a distinctive founder story, scaleable impact, and a desire to build their business on their terms for the long run.

DNNL Launchpad applications are open until September 22, and the selected entrepreneurs will be announced on September 29.

The bi-weekly live days, expert sessions, and events of DNNL Launchpad begin on October 5. The first strategy expert day is October 12; the funding is November 2.

On November 23, the last expert day will cover growth and scaling, followed by demo day on December 7.

DNNL will support go-to-market strategy and investor negotiations till early next year.

Ofori plans to run another large cohort in 2024 and two cohorts yearly from 2025 as the first cohort nears announcement.

At present, DNNL is simply interested in investor relationships and dialogues. DNNL is considering directly funding Launchpad cohorts in the future.

DNNL is preparing previously overlooked high-potential founders for growth through the Launchpad.

Ofori claims this project will diversify investor pipelines with high-potential businesses, enabling later-stage accelerator programs with more diverse founders and startups.

She thinks the Launchpad boosts the Dutch economy by creating jobs and offering more solutions that help us and future generations.

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