AWS Impact Accelerator Taps Amazon’s Muscle And Tech Expertise – Entrepreneur

There are a lot of impact accelerators out there. But the AWS Impact Accelerator, run by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and launched earlier this year, has a particular competitive edge: a combination of Amazon’s heft, plus its technology expertise. “We know about a lot of things, but what we really know is the technology,” says Denise Quashie, head of global startup marketing programs and a former tech startup founder herself.

The accelerator program was launched in April with a $30 million three-year commitment made to early-stage startups led by Black, women, Latino and LGBTQIA+ founders. Each cohort, with 25 early-stage startups, lasts for eight weeks; companies must have already built their product and are ready for prime-time. Startups get up to $125,000 in cash and $100,000 in credits for AWS services.

The current decline in VC funding, according to Howard Wright, vice president and global head of startups at AWS, which is Amazon’s cloud platform unit, make the need for such accelerators particularly urgent. “Historically underrepresented founders get penalized disproportionately,” says Howard.

The first cohort, the AWS Impact Accelerator for Black Founders, kicked off in April. That was followed by the Women’s Cohort, which launched in October and recently ended. The Latino cohort will kick off early next year.

In a related development, last October, Amazon announced Amazon Catalytic Capital, aimed at investing $150 million in VC funds, accelerators, incubators and venture studios that fund entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds.

Separate Tracks

AWS’ technology expertise and focus are reflected in separate tracks for CEOs and CTOs. In fact, one requirement to enter the program is that startups not only have a technical lead or CTO, but also one who can take part in the accelerator. That person is then paired with an AWS tech specialist who can help with a startup’s back-end architecture, minimum viable product (MVP) and other technology elements; most of the mentors are former founders or VCs, who have experience growing businesses, or former CTOs. Meetings with mentors are held weekly.

For their part, CEOs work with a person from the AWS startup business development team. Mostly former founders, as well as investors, they focus on product market fit and go-to-market strategies—plans for launching a product or expanding to a new market—and fund-raising. Accelerator startups schedule 15-to-30-minute meetings with their mentors via the program platform. They also work with Amazon employees who aren’t part of AWS, but are in areas like voice technology or Whole Foods. The program mostly relies on partners, such as Hubspot, to discuss various topics, allowing AWS to focus on technical issues like cloud and infrastructure adoption.

A Mix of In-Person and Virtual

The first week of the program is held in-person at AWS’ Seattle headquarters, during which CEOs and CTOs map out the areas they need to focus on. Most of the rest takes place virtually, with weekly meetings. The last week is in-person for a pitch preparation ending with a pitch before investors, most of whom the founders would most likely not be able to meet on their own.

Quashie and her colleagues started the accelerator program with the hypothesis that the biggest challenges facing under-represented founders were go-to-market strategies, fund-raising and technology. According to Quashie, since launching, she’s found that thesis to be correct.

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