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Source: AgLaunch news release

Memphis, TN - AgLaunch announced it has been named a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Channel Partner Award winner by the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2). IN2 is a $50 million clean technology program funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and co-administered by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The program has distributed funds to Centrepolis Accelerator, AgLaunch, Elemental Excelerator and Innovation Corridor to support diversity initiatives that provide entrepreneurial opportunities for historically underrepresented individuals in the cleantech industry.

AgLaunch will use the funds to develop an accelerator program focused specifically on challenging systemic lack of access to early stage commercialization resources for African American founders in the agtech sector. AgLaunch will leverage its existing relationship with Tennessee State University, an 1890 HBCU that is one of the fastest growing agricultural universities in the US and the National Black Growers Council, a network of African American farmers across the Southeast, to identify new technologies, provide a platform for business development, and ultimately integrate into farm-level trials.

Additionally, AgLaunch will continue to work with LITE and CodeCrew to expand program offerings that encourage underrepresented high school students to develop technology and entrepreneurship skills focused on solving problems in food and agriculture.

Cleantech consistently ranks as one of the fastest-growing employment categories in the United States, but its workforce has historically lacked diversity. According to a 2019 report from the Solar Foundation, the nation's solar workforce at the time was 73% white, 17% Hispanic or Latino, 9% Asian and 8% Black. Minority entrepreneurship in cleantech is even lower, as only 10% of minority-owned businesses are in the Professional, Scientific and Technology sectors.

A recent IN2 whitepaper assessing the current cleantech landscape found that 78% of the surveyed cleantech startups maintain a predominantly white workforce, and 93% have a majority of male employees, further emphasizing the need for initiatives focused on diversifying the industry.

"Diverse entrepreneur and business-owner participation in the cleantech ecosystem is essential to achieving our vision of an inclusive and sustainable economic recovery," said Jenny Flores, Head of Small Business Growth Philanthropy at Wells Fargo.

"It is our hope that advancing inclusion within the cleantech ecosystem will help drive greater equity in the distribution of green jobs, more appropriately address issues of Environmental Justice, and ensure that diverse communities are included and considered in the many trillions of dollars of near-future investment that will be required to avert the most serious impacts of climate change. We look forward to tracking the progress and impact of these four important programs," said Flores.

"The IN2 Channel Partner Awards program aims to strengthen sustainable technology initiatives and address common barriers for startups and has long prioritized diversity as a part of its selection process," said Trish Cozart, IN2 Program Manager, NREL. "Research indicates that the pandemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on minority-owned businesses in all sectors. These latest awards will focus on addressing the lack of minority representation in the cleantech industry at a time when startups and entrepreneurs are experiencing heightened challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic."

"AgLaunch is excited about this opportunity to accelerate its mission to increase African American startup founders in its portfolio with a long-term approach to engage and invigorate agriculture-focused HBCUs," said Pete Nelson, Executive Director of AgLaunch. "But we now get to take it a step further and engage under-resourced high school students to think about solutions to problems facing our food and agriculture system."

The nationwide network of IN2 Channel Partners includes 63 cleantech and agtech business incubators, accelerators, universities and industry experts. Since the inception of the awards program in 2016, $5 million in competitive and non-competitive Channel Partner Awards have supported 48 Strategic Awards, 160 ecosystem awards and engaged all Channel Partners.

To learn more about diversity and inclusion within the Channel Partner network, see the program's whitepaper, Perspectives from the INē Network: State of the Cleantech Landscape.

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