Impact Ventures, a Dallas-based nonprofit dedicated to creating diverse and inclusive tech ecosystems, launched the region’s first minority-focused startup accelerator program this spring.
The 12-week, mission-driven accelerator aims to assist the underrepresented startup community—women, minority, or social impact—looking to break into the tech industry. Founder and CEO Benjamin Vann was motivated by the opportunity gap: “As of 2018, just 2 percent of minorities received venture capital funding and 2 percent of minorities were represented in the tech industry workforce,” he says.
That’s where Impact Ventures comes in. Vann’s new accelerator is designed to train and equip underrepresented entrepreneurs with the necessary tools to better gain traction and raise funding for their startup. Each participant receives quality education, community, access to high-level mentorship, and more.
It’s a rigorous training and development program, but Vann made sure it was structured to fit both the full-time founder and the part-time “intra-preneur.” And despite launching during a global pandemic, the first cohort wrapped a few weeks ago with a successful startup showcase.
Over the next week, Dallas Innovates will be highlighting some of Impact Ventures’ Spring 2020 Fellows. The series begins with Dallas-based Exgratias, an all-inclusive financial platform with products tailored to the entertainment industry and focused on contractual workers.
Meet Exgratias, the Dallas fintech that serves professional artists
Emanuel Green (CPO) and Thomas Langehennig (CEO) co-founded Exgratias to fill a hole in the entertainment industry. The duo noticed there wasn’t a financial support system for professional artists navigating the industry, unlike traditional W2 employees.
“We started the company initially out of our own experience in the entertainment and finance industries,” they say. “We heard from peers talking about the same problems over and over again. We figured if it has been this way for so long, why not take a chance and change the norm.”
It’s a big market to fill, according to Green and Langehennig. Professional artists that do non-union work—actors, models, performers—make up 80 percent of the market at $15.4 billion. Add to that 24 million freelance creative professionals.
The outdated payment cycle, which often takes more than 60 days to complete payment, is a common pain point for those completing non-union gigs.
Exgratias launched a beta in August 2019 with solutions tailored to those needs. There’s a Gig Tracker, Health Benefits, Lifestyle Discounts, and Gig-based credit. The company’s proprietary Pro.Artist Advance allows professional artists to get paid within two business days on non-union work they have completed, giving them more control over their financial well-being as creatives.
Next up is launching an app, which is currently in development. Green and Langehennig are currently bootstrapping the fintech startup and have so far raised $25,000 for operations, marketing, the beta launch, and beginning an app. But they are already revenue-generating through Pro.Artist Advance.
“Once we have our app developed, we will be working on implementing a lot of our solutions,” they say. “We will focus on the three things every professional artist wants: dependable income, fast payment, and benefits. We are here to elevate creative lifestyles through our platform.”
Once they receive seed round funding, the co-founders plan to hire an additional employee. Long term, they plan to be the No. 1 financial platform for the entertainment industry.
Exgratias’ co-founders: “We’re here to change the paradigm of the ‘starving artist.'”
Get to know more about co-founders Green and Langehennig in our Q+A below.
What are you most proud of in terms of your startup?
We are most proud of being able to take this from an idea, to paper, to now an actual platform, and an app that is soon to be ready to launch in the market.
What do you wish people knew about Exgratias?
I wish people knew that we are here to change the paradigm of the “starving artist.” Whether you act, sing, rap, etc. you should be recognized as a professional. We want to finally reward those who are taking the path less traveled and going after their creative dreams.
How did you come up with the name Exgratias?
This is an interesting question. We were brainstorming and came up with a lot of ideas, but all the domains were taken.
Then we were like let’s go back to the drawing board, do some research on anything pay, lend, entertainment, and creative. After that, we came across the word “exgratia” which is Latin for payment out of good will.
How do you expect being accepted to the Impact Venture cohort to make a difference to your team? What other mentors have been pivotal?
Being accepted to the Impact Venture cohort helped prepare us to be able to take on the next stage. The mentorship of Impact Venture Accelerator has helped us grow as business leaders.
[We also worked] with the owner of Bella Modeling School and clients from Callidus Agency as early adopters and acceptance of our concept has been great. The belief of our accredited Silicon Valley Investor in us when this was just an idea has all been pivotal to our initial traction.
What can you tell us about your company culture and mission?
Fresh Approach, Creative thinkers, and Collaborative. The goal for us is first and foremost to help underserved professional artists, because we believe in fairness and the right to have all the great benefits while following your passion.
The mission is to help professional artists elevate their careers and creative lifestyles by offering products that make them more financially secure.
What opportunities do you see rising?
With the current pandemic that has forced a lot of industries to change the normal way of doing business, I think the entertainment industry is going to be changed tremendously and there will be a lot of room for new innovations. The issues in the gig economy such as health benefits and worker classification is going to trickle down to the industry as well. There will be room to intervene and be there for all that.
What sector trends are you most excited about?
I am most excited about the concept of faster payments for every professional artist and creative. There is going to be another company launching who will be advancing payments to freelance and indie filmmakers. With that, there is going to be a big change. Creatives will be able to take advantage of the new services that are going to be available for them.
Has your company done any significant research and development?
Yes, most definitely. Before we even started, we went to the University of Texas at Dallas and gathered tons of articles and market research reports. Then throughout us doing our beta and getting our MVP, we have continuously surveyed the market and found out the main points for us to best help professional artists.
Additionally, as we are developing our app, we have done UX samples to gather their feedback which has proven to be very valuable.
Has the pandemic and social environment shifted your plans this year?
Yes, I think it has for everybody. We need to speed up our timeline to enter the market because another company has sped up their timeline to enter the market and start advancing payments as well.
A service like this is going to be needed as professional artists start getting back to work. They are going to need access to their money right away instead of waiting 60+ days on average since the financial impact of COVID-19 is going to be felt for months after they return.
We knew right away that we had to cut any non essential expenses and wait to strategize. We were about to launch a $2,000 market campaign then stopped early March because we knew this was going to dramatically impact everyone.
How can Exgratias help businesses or people in today’s fast-changing environment?
We will be able to help signed models and actors get paid immediately instead of waiting 60+ days on average when production sets start opening back up. As for any professional artist or creative, we will be able to help them track their gigs and income right now then starting early next year get health benefits and discounts on things that matter to them.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Quincy Preston contributed to the report.
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