Regional accelerators: changing the national narrative

Faith Merino · May 9, 2014 · Short URL:

Three accelerators are changing the way we talk about their communities


Vator Splash Oakland was a departure from the usual Vator Splash focus. While Vator Splash San Francisco, New York, London, and LA have all been focused on regional tecscenes, Bambi Francisco, Vator's founder, wanted Splash Oakland to have an emphasis on community and culture, and for the event to change the national narrative around a particular city. 

As MC Hammer noted in his fireside chat, Oakland has been unfairly characterized as violent—a move that has been strategic, he pointed out. So how do we change that narrative without changing the community?

One of the panels we saw at Splash Oakland focused on regional accelerators that—unlike some of the larger tech accelerators we’ve come to know—are focused on bolstering their local economies and creating more jobs. The panelists included Ginger Imster, the executive director of Arch Grants in St. Louis, Charlie Brock, the CEO and President of Launch Tennessee, and Chris Redlitz, the founder of The Last Mile, an accelerator program for incarcerated men and women.

What all of the accelerators had in common was the focus on closing the life cycle: you can have great schools in your city, but how do you prevent brain drain and keep talent around? Where are the jobs?

“St. Louis has had a tough national narrative. Ours was about crystal meth, high crime, really frightening stories that were not representative of the whole,” said Ginger Imster, adding that Arch Grants was created on the question of, “How do we strategically incentivize talent to grow our tech infrastructure? What could we as an agency do to ensure that we we’re strategically attracting talent that can raise the ecosystem?”

Since its founding in 2012, Arch Grants has brought nearly 200 jobs and more than $6.5 million in revenue to St. Louis. The accelerator has funded 35 startups that have gone on to raise an additional $17.7 million altogether.

Similarly, The Last Mile is all about changing the national narrative that tends to follow prison inmates. The U.S. currently spends some $100 billion on incarceration and we account for 20% of the world’s incarcerated population (even though we only make up 5% of the world’s total population). And recidivism is a problem, with 60% of released inmates going on to reoffend within the first three years.

The Last Mile was founded in 2012 by husband and wife team Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti.

“We’ve created the Impact Index to track those that graduate, and not only do they not reoffend, they pay taxes, give back to the community, have families, go back and get degrees. We have 35 grads and seven are employed in San Francisco in tech startups. That number is going to grow pretty dramatically,” said Redlitz, referring to California’s Prison Realignment program, which will release inmates charged with non-violent offenses in an attempt to shrink the prison population.

“When we first started the program in San Quentin, there was some hesitancy about what the program was—do I get involved? Do I trust these people?” Redlitz added. “Trust in prison isn’t that natural, but over time they saw guys getting out, guys getting jobs, they saw their brothers on TV and that has a lot of impact. We’ve seen a lot of interest—people are inquiring about the program for their loved ones who are in prison. The warden of San Quentin said he feels like the dynamics in the yard are changing. He said there’s a sense of hope…there’s less violence. We didn’t think about that when we started the program.”

Charlie Brock noted that Launch Tennessee is really trying to reframe the whole thought process around success and achievement.

“People are getting energized around the entrepreneurship opportunities. The other thing that’s been huge for us is a conference called Southland. We’re trying to draw investors from the coast to Tennessee. That’s been great for the region, but where we need to get to in Tennessee is we need to get to that celebration of failure. Get up on that horse and fall off, but you’re still a rock star.”


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Ginger Imster

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

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Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

Chris Redlitz

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