Introducing VHLX: a virtual-first fellowship program for LatinX founders

Latinx founders have been overlooked in the venture capital world for too long — Visible Hands and Google are working together to change that.

Visible Hands is partnering with Google to form VHLX, a virtual-first fellowship program to support overlooked Latinx founders. The fellowship, which will run its first 20-week iteration later this year, is specifically designed to help Latinx entrepreneurs build successful startups.

According to a 2019 research study conducted by Stanford University’s Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative (SLEI), monetary support is one of the largest obstacles Latinx founders face. Despite the increase of Latinx-founded companies in the U.S., the total revenue for these companies has consistently decreased since 2016, dropping from $8.1 billion to $5.9 billion.

“Latinx-led startups only get about 2% of venture capital, but we are 20% of the U.S. population,” said Yulkendy Valdez, Visible Hands Product Manager, who will be leading the selected teams through the fellowship programming. “VHLX intends to contribute a small yet significant piece to narrowing the gap for the fastest-growing population of entrepreneurs.”

VHLX hopes to be the starting point of solving the issue of scarce support for Latinx founders, providing 20 early-stage startups with $10 thousand in non-dilutive funding upon acceptance into the program.

“Our aim is to provide these teams with a powerful combination of financial capital, plus support from Google and other industry leaders to build an enviable foundation worth being full-time on,” said Yasmin Cruz Ferrine, Visible Hands General Partner and Co-Founder. “There tends to be less funding opportunities for Latinx entrepreneurs than other ethnic groups. It can be hard to justify taking the entrepreneurial leap for top talent without it. We’re looking forward to being able to fill that gap.”

Yasmin Cruz Ferrine and Yulkendy Valdez at the Visible Hands Spring 2022 team retreat in NYC.

Both Cruz Ferrine and Valdez are excited to spearhead this new fellowship program with Google, especially since both have experienced what it’s like trying to survive in the entrepreneurship landscape as a Latinx founder.

“I often see the VC ecosystem misconstrue this opportunity as one that is led from the heart and not the head,” Cruz Ferrine said. “These are talented founders who are solving real world consumer, business or creator problems, creating tech companies with sizable market opportunities.”

Valdez’ own startup journey made the need for a Latinx-focused fellowship all the more clear, especially when looking to grow and scale.

“At the age of 22, I rejected a financially cushy job offer in consulting as a senior in college to launch my startup full-time,” Valdez said. “As an Afro-Latina from a low-income immigrant family, I felt isolated and terrified navigating a majority White and male tech ecosystem. When meeting with business executives and investors, I felt the weight and the pressure to be excellent, even perfect. When networking, I encountered microaggressions about my accent, afro, age, etc.”

“When meeting with business executives and investors, I felt the weight and the pressure to be excellent, even perfect.” — Yulkendy Valdez, Visible Hands Product Manager

Valdez explained that cultural norms can also play a role in making entrepreneurship more challenging to navigate for Latinx founders.

“It was hard for me to ask for things, as the Latino community is all about giving, giving, especially if you are a woman,” Valdez said. “Nevertheless, being a founder created so much access for me, and through VHLX, I hope to make the journey a little easier for others.”

Keeping in mind such experiences, Visible Hands and Google are working to create a unique and authentically inclusive space for VHLX founders.

“VHLX is not your typical entrepreneurship fellowship,” Valdez said. “We are less interested in teaching our founders how to build a business and more interested in creating a space for our fellows to experiment, fail, and adapt while staying true to who they are. More importantly, this will be a program where you can speak Spanglish (a mix of Spanish and English), have Bad Bunny playing in the background of one of our sessions, and have serious conversations about navigating the start-up landscape as a Latinx founder.”

Visible Hands’ core accelerator has already showcased the teams’ dedication to leveling the entrepreneurial playing-field, as well as their success in doing so. Their inaugural cohort of BIPOC and women-owned startups has raised over $14 million collectively since their time in the accelerator, and Latinx founders, like Noelle Acosta of Noula Health and Sean Echevarria of Rees, have seen exponential growth in their companies.

Google has also worked to help create more opportunities for Latinx founders through their Google for Startup Latinos Founders Fund. The fund provides up to $100 thousand in non-dilutive funding for Latinx founders.

After having conversations about their current efforts and mutual desire to create more equity in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, the partnership between Google and Visible Hands only seemed like a natural fit.

“At Visible Hands, everything we do is connected to narrowing this country’s racial and ethnic wealth gap,” Valdez said. “Like many, we believe venture capital and entrepreneurship are powerful tools to help us get there. We are extremely lucky to partner with Google For Startups in this important mission.”

Yasmin Cruz Ferrine at the Visible Hands Spring 2022 team retreat in NYC.

Founders who are accepted into VHLX will get the guidance and support needed from the Visible Hands and Google teams to hit their next major startup milestone, no matter where they’re starting.

“By the end of the fellowship, we want to help them hit critical milestones, from closing their first 1–10 customers or 100 users to building the initial version of their product,” Valdez said. “We are not going to do this alone as we will invite Latinx entrepreneurs who raise venture capital or hit at least $1M in revenues, so they can see what they can become and more. As we create this extended community, we will have fun and celebrate the Latinx culture.”

VHLX will also support founder well-being, providing a wellness coach to the cohort to ensure members are balancing their health with their startups.

VHLX is currently accepting applications for the first 20 startups to participate in its inaugural cohort. Founders can apply here; applications close June 24, 2022.

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