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Accelerator uses blind selection process to boost diversity of backed founders


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: December 12th, 2018

A start-up accelerator in Philadelphia is using a blinded selection process for deciding on companies to back in a bid to enhance diversity among its start-ups.

Despite the conventional wisdom that the quality of the start-up team is critical for making investment decisions, the Digital Health Accelerator at the University City Science Center is removing any information from applications that could bias its screeners, including their names.

Instead, the DHA created a blind initial application process that focuses on the founders’ ability to communicate their idea — and it appears to be working just fine. The accelerator has gone through three sets of cohorts, and 17 of its 20 graduates remain in business, having created over 180 jobs, $21 million in revenue, and $47 million in follow-on funding to date, with two exits. 

Aron Starosta, the program director and architect for the accelerator, has built accelerators on four continents over the last 10 years. He says the goal of the unique screening is two-fold: to even the playing field and improve diversity, while also ensuring that the best ideas win. To achieve this, the accelerator uses a crowd-sourced selection process that emphasizes diverse backgrounds of the committee members from a wide cross-section of the healthcare industry.

The first step in the application is double-blind, removing any identifying information about the founding team or the origins of the technology. The idea is to focus on two questions: How does a company talk about their product? Is the idea interesting?

Eamon Gallagher, a program director who works with other start-ups within the University City Science Center, acknowledged that DHA’s approach tends to turn the process of selecting companies on its head. He compared it to the approach used by some orchestras, which have tried to narrow their own gender gap by having applicants perform behind a screen with their names and gender withheld.

Consensus is an important component in the screening process. When just a few screeners think a company has a good idea, it’s interesting but not necessarily selected. But when 15 reviewers with a diverse analytical background share that opinion, the accelerator invests up to $50,000 in those companies.

Source: MedCity News

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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