Black founders comprise less than 1% of venture-backed startups in the United States, yet 13.4% of the US population identifies as Black or African American (this baseline statistic excludes those who identify as 2+ races). Lack of VC diversity is only one example of taught biases Black entrepreneurs face in the US. Systematic oppression and exclusion of Blacks is often perpetuated by ignorance and disproportionate, negative news coverage that exaggerates reality.

With this context in mind, success stories from black trailblazers is impressive. The following featured black founders and mentors are either active members in the Founder Institute's network, or have recently completed the accelerator's rigorous program. 

Founder Institute Directors:

Fact: at venture capital firms only 2% of senior positions are held by African Americans. 

1. Mariah Lichtenstern, JD
Director of the Sacramento FI accelerator program

Lichtenstern is a tech policy fellow at the Aspen Institute, and is the Founding Partner and Managing Director of DiverseCity Ventures, a venture capital firm that accelerates positive social, economic, and environmental impact. She truly represents FI as she is both an alumna of the accelerator (FI Silicon Valley, 2015) and a director at FI Sacramento.

Founder Institute Mentors:

2. Kiki Mwiti
Founder & CEO DYVVYD (FI Silicon Valley)

Mwiti is the Founder and CEO of DYVVYD (divvied, divide, diversified), which is the tech industry’s 1st diversity and inclusion platform and digital community for VCs and startups. Mwiti has founded two other companies—FairFunders and Globerly, is a founding board member of the SF Arts & Tech Collective, and is a mentor for the Silicon Valley Founder Institute Accelerator.

3. Benjamin Young 
Co-Founder & CEO of Sworkit (FI Washington, DC)

Young, MBA is the CIO and former CEO of Sworkit (formerly "Nexercise"), a premium digital health and fitness company—with over 30 million downloads—that is on a mission to cut the rate childhood obesity in half by 2026. Young is a member of YEC, and was a mentor at Founder Institute, a Managing Director at C.Y. Strategy, a Senior Director at, the Director of Technology at Precipia Systems, Inc, and Co-Founder of Web Emerse LLC.

4. Lesa Hammond

Co-Founder & CEO of Prof360 (FI Silicon Valley)

Hammond has been a mentor for the Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and East Bay chapters of the Founder Institute since 2017. She is also a graduate of the Silicon Valley FI program, where she first launched her adjunct faculty management software company in 2015, then called “ProfHire.” Lesa Hammond is the Co-Founder & CEO of ProfHire (now rebranded as Prof360), an FI Silicon Valley portfolio company that provides a cloud-based faculty affairs information management system. 

ProfHire is a one-stop-shop for educational institutions to manage their professorial and teaching talent. From onboarding to compliance, and credential management to eContracts, ProfHire has solutions built by educators for educators, and all in one convenient place.”

Founder Institute Alumni: 

5. Kistein Monkhouse, MPA

Founder and CEO of Patient Orator (FI New York)

Monkhouse founded and is CEO of the public health impact startup Patient Orator, a platform using storytelling to improve patient experience and population health. Monkhouse is on the Community Advisory Board at the University of Washington’s Cambia Palliative Care Center of Excellence, and is an advisor to We The Patients NY, a Community Service Society of New York initiative. Her background as a nursing assistant exposed her to the challenges of the US healthcare system. She earned a Masters Degree in Public Health from Long Island University in 2017 and has since worked at the intersection of public and private health using stories to bring awareness to the importance of improving the health of all people, including underserved communities. Her mission at Patient Orator is focused around catalyzing storytelling to address social determinants of health. 

6. Michael Odiari 
Founder & CEO of (FI Austin)

Since graduating from the 2018 Austin Founder Institute cohort, Michael has become a mentor for the FI Austin and Houston chapters. Odiari conducted thorough research before founding "Check." His startup is an app that initiates safer interactions between law enforcement and motorists during a traffic stop by allowing a video conversation to occur in the safety of both parties vehicles. 

7. Captain Tara Wright
Founder & CEO of PYNQ (FI Silicon Valley)

Wright, Co-Founder & CEO of PYNQ, a startup ride sharing service designed around women, and experienced major airline captain, is driven to help the 13.3% of the ride sharing population (8 million women) by using enhanced safety features and safety equipment. With 13 years of experience as a captain at Alaska Airlines under her belt, Wright is also on the board of directors for Sister of the Skies, which provides support for minority women pilots.

8. Harold Hughes
Founder & CEO of Bandwagon (FI Greenville)

Hughes, MBA is the Founder and CEO of Bandwagon, an analytics company that uses data, and proprietary blockchain technology to help teams and event organizers eliminate ticket fraud and increase fan engagement. Hughes, a community builder, is the Dean’s Advisory Board Member for Clemson University Graduate School and for the University of South Carolina Upstate, and is a member of the Board of Directors for Rebuild Upstate, which rebuilds homes and communities for people in upstate South Carolina. He has worked as a product manager and as a business development manager for ScanSource. He earned a graduate certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship from Stanford University in 2018. In regards to Bandwagon, Hughes stated,

I’m really proud of what it took to start this company.  It has taken so much from so many people to get to this point; so, I’m really thankful for the people who believed in me when we were just getting started. 

9. Dayo McIntosh

Founder and CEO of Yateou (FI Oakland)

McIntosh realized that the majority of skin, hair, and wellness products in the market have harsh chemicals and toxins that can have negative effects ranging from allergies and reproductive dysfunction to cancer. To change this narrative, McIntosh founded and is CEO of the impact startup YATEOU, which is a platform for 100% natural, vegan, cruelty-free, and ethically sourced products that also invests in social and environmental sustainability. McIntosh's startup is the first consumer-facing, 6 axis robot in the beauty and wellness space. Because of this, Yateou can provide users with customized hair, skin, and aromatherapy oils made to spec by Yateou's robot ADE. The aptly named company comes from the word "yato," which means "exceptional" in Yoruba.

10. Chris Motley 
Founder and CEO of The Whether (FI Chicago)

Motley, Founder and CEO of The Wether (formerly called Better Weekdays) built a mentorship-based social network designed to help companies to attract and retain diverse talent.  The application facilitates mentor relationships between a company's Employee Resource Group, vetted students, and recent graduates according to their career interests.

Prior to Better Weekdays, Chris spent 6 years as an EVP & Director at 1888 Mills, a global textile manufacturer, where he led the company’s expansion into Ghana, and headed its Apparel Division. Previously, Chris spent 4 years at Goldman Sachs as a Commodities and Interest Rate Products trader. He is a graduate of Columbia University with a BA in History and the Kellogg School of Management with an MBA, concentrating in Entrepreneurship. 

11. Latiya Gholar
Founder of American Umma (FI Silicon Valley)

Gholar has over 20 years of experience in the fashion industry, starting with her BFA in fashion design and marketing from the International Academy of Design and Technology. She is the Founder and CEO of American Umma (AU), a Dope Covered Apparel brand that creates Ultra Modern Modular Apparel for covered fashion trends through using 3D avatars and VR/AR technology to create bespoke garments. The customer's custom avatar prints on fabric made from 100% recycled bottles and garments made with 3D printing.

Gholar's environmentally friendly, impact startup also uses upcycled clothing and sustainable fabrics in limited quantities to reduce its carbon footprint. The lean manufacturing process uses ethical labor from skilled textile trade workers returning home from prison to help reduce recidivism. American Umma is an international brand that has been presented in 10 cities including, NYFW, London Fashion Week and a host of invites to runways in cities like Paris, Milan, Jakarta, and Dubai.

12. Kristopher Francisco, MS

Founder and CEO of Evolute (FI Silicon Valley)

Francisco, MS, is Founder and CEO of Evolute Inc, the flagship enterprise container platform enabling companies to achieve their digital transformation today. Previously, Francisco was awarded Innovator of the Year by Digital Diversity Networks, and his engagements and industry direction have enabled Google, Airbnb, Procore, Cruise Automation among others. Francisco has led new opportunities via N8TiVe Consulting, has educated next-generation technologists at Amazon and Facebook as a professor of Computer Engineering at Northeastern University (a U.S. World News Top 10 Most Innovative Public college). He has pioneered new technologies at Apple as well as set technology vision at Chevron. Kristopher continues as a board member to Founder Institute companies, and gave talks in 2019 to founders at Founder Institute’s Silicon Valley Cohort.

13. Janice Williams Oliver, Kellogg MBA 
Founder and CEO of MisTee Wants to Know (FI Silicon Valley)

"Founder/CEO Janice Williams Oliver is launching the MisTee PRO Handheld Steaming devise to address knots and tangles in hair.  Imagine a handheld hair dryer with steam coming out, this devise leverages an oil filled pod to discharge “oily steam” to detangle hair fast.  Currently, stylists are using either a comb or fingers, thus resulting in a loss of time and money. Williams Oliver's professional background includes 25+ years of marketing/profit and loss management experience with companies such as Hasbro, Bayer, and Royal Caribbean."

14. Sheffie Robinson, PSM

Founder and CEO of Touco Direct (FI Chicago)

Robinson founded and is CEO of Touco Direct, LLC, which provides web design, managed hosting, maintenance, and digitalmarketing services for companies, educational institutions, and governmental agencies. She directed Founder Institute’s Atlanta chapter for over a year, and has mentored startup founders since early 2016. Prior to FI Robinson founded Bantunium Labs, a diversity and inclusion based accelerator. In the past 5 years she has held numerous leadership, instructional, and mentorship positions around the country.

Resources for black founders and black entrepreneurs in the U.S. can be found here.

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Graduates of the Founder Institute are creating some of the world's fastest growing startups, having raised over $1.75BN in funding, and building products people love across over 200 cities worldwide.

See the most recent news from our Grads at, or learn more about their stories at

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