By Nancy Dahlberg
New venture will dive deeper into inclusive ecosystem building and include a scorecard.
Leigh-Ann Buchanan and her team are leaving Venture Café Miami to focus entirely on a new venture, aīre ventures.
The new organization will provide advisory and technical support to community leaders locally and nationally who want to build technology, innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems that are diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible for all, she said.
“We are super excited by this more focused direction of our work," said Buchanan, aīre ventures’ president, in a phone interview. She said current team of seven at Venture Cafe Miami will all be part of the new organization.
Buchanan said this past summer it started to become very clear that the work the Venture Cafe team had been doing around inclusion was unique and worth a larger focus.
"When we looked at our work in Miami, we recognized that the #ThursdayGathering and some of the other programming were great catalyzers ... But if you think about the life cycle of an innovation ecosystem, you reach a point where you need more than programming — you need more infrastructure," she said.
"There needs to be a roadmap that says collectively where is the community going, what is our vision to build the ecosystem and who is going to put their hand up and say we are happy to help be the community architect, to rally all the parties, to make sure founders' and innovators' voices are center and at the table, and to ensure that we have clear outcomes that can be measured by data," she said. That will help "hold ourselves accountable to make sure the ecosystem experience by institutions, by individuals, and by people in the pipeline, is accessible, diverse, inclusive and racially equitable."
Buchanan said her team will act as those “ecosystem architects” that can provide assistance in develop inclusive strategies and create actionable plans to bridge gaps in access to capital, opportunities and resources for founders. She said that will include a framework for measuring diversity and inclusion KPIs as well as founder experiences.
"We are going to be issuing an ecosystem scorecard with organizations we partner with and anyone in the tech an and innovation community can respond to the scorecard so we can have some benchmarking," she said.
The organization will also help scale new and existing ventures that align with this mission. She said many of the talent and inclusion programs that she started with Knight Foundation and other partners will be continued under aīre ventures and aīre ventures will be taking the lead of Talent Scout. In addition, Buchanan said the new venture will be taking its learnings national to help other ecosystems.
Buchanan, who helped lead the Miami Tech community’s effort to recently launch a Miami Manifesto, launched Venture Café Miami in 2016 as the founding executive director. Over the past five years, Venture Café – particularly known for its popular #ThursdayGatherings -- has served more than 54,000 innovators, facilitated 3,400 hours of entrepreneurial support, and established 1,000 partnerships. These efforts served a diverse demographic of over 70% people of color and 49% women.
“We’re sad to see Leigh-Ann go. We’re so proud of the work she and the team has accomplished over the last 5 years or so. Overall, we see a growing, exciting community in Miami and wish the team at aīre ventures nothing but the best,” said Zara Crichton, president of CIC Venture Cafe Global Institute.
In a statement, VCGI said it is well aware of the essential role Venture Cafe Miami plays in the community, and it "will continue to convene the #ThursdayGatherings focused on supporting Miami's vibrant startup and entrepreneurial scene." Buchanan's team will operate it through the end of February.
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