Student-led accelerator Envision is shaking up which startups get funded

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Meet Envision, a new startup accelerator. The group, built and run by a collection of students and recent graduates, just closed the application process for its first cohort of startups.

Its goal isn’t merely to find some companies and give them a boost, however. According to Annabel Strauss and Eliana Berger, two co-founders of Envision, it’s to shake up the diversity stats that we’ve all come to know.

“We started Envision because we believe in a future where womxn, Black, and Latinx founders receive more than 3% and 1% of venture funding, respectively,” they said in an email. “As a team of students, we wanted to take matters into our own hands to help founders succeed — it’s our mission to support entrepreneurs early in their journeys, and amplify voices that are often underestimated.”

According to its own data, Envision attracted 190 applications, far above its initial, stretch-goal of 100. From its nearly 200 submissions, the group intends to select 15 entrants. According to Strauss and Berger, their initial goal was to winnow it to just 10. But, the pair told TechCrunch in an interview, they doubled the starting cohort size based on the strength of applications.

Envision will provide an eight-week curriculum and around $10,000 in equity-free capital to companies taking part (the group is still closing on part of the capital it needs, but appears to be making quick progress based on numbers shared with TechCrunch).

Each of the eight weeks that Envision lasts will feature a theme, 1:1 mentorship, office hours with startup veterans and, at the end, a blitz of investor-focused mentorship, and an invite-only demo day. The core of the Envision accelerator rotates around the mentors and other helpers it has accreted since coming into existence in early June.

Envision, run by 11 college students and recent graduates, quickly picked up enough startup veterans to run its program (names like Ryan Hoover, Arlan Hamilton, Alexia Tsotsis), and seemingly ample corporate support. In an email this morning, Envision told TechCrunch that Soma Capital, Underscore VC, Breyer Capital, Grasshopper Bank and Lerer Hippeau have joined as sponsors. Indeed, looking at Envision’s partner page reads a bit like a who’s who of Silicon Valley and startup names that you know.

Talking to Envision I was slightly surprised how many students are involved in venture capital today. The Envision team is a good example of the trend. Strauss is involved with Rough Draft Ventures, for example, which is “powered” by General Catalyst. Quinn Litherland from the Envision team is also part of the Rough Draft crew. Contrary Capital, which TechCrunch covered this morning and focuses on student founders, is represented by Timi Dayo-Kayode, James Rogers, Eliana Berger, and Gefen Skolnick on the team. The list goes on, with Danielle Lomax, Angel Onuoha, and Kim Patel all involved, and active in the VC world.

For Strauss, Berger and the rest of the Envision team the pressure is now on to select intelligently from their 190 applications, and provide maximum boost to their first cohort. If the program goes well, and the demo day it has planned in two months proves useful to both startups and investors alike, I don’t see why Envision wouldn’t stage another class down the road. Though of course, it might want to follow in the footsteps of Y Combinator, TechStars and 500 Startups at that point and take an equity stake in the companies it works with.

Envision says in large letters at the top of its website that it is “helping diverse founders build their companies.” If the group succeeds in meeting that mark, it will be an implicit critique of the old-fashioned venture capital world that has historically not invested in diverse founders.

If a dozen college students and recent grads can spin up an accelerator in a few weeks, get nearly 200 applications, and select a diverse cohort to support, then what’s everyone else’s excuse.