Entrepreneurship Program Boosts Minority-, Women-Owned Companies

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
The owners of Dokkaebier in Oakland said they have thrived after participating in a business accelerator program called the ICA Fund. Photo Credit: Mikey Maher

Traditional business lending is tight these days following a series of recent bank collapses but one program is helping small businesses grow, focusing primarily on women or people of color.

The ICA Fund offers a 12-week program called “The Accelerator at ICA” which focuses on strategy for growth, personnel, capital, and investment readiness.

Youngwon Lee, founder and CEO of Dokkaebier, an Asian-inspired craft brewery in Oakland, started the business in 2020 and now employs 20 people.

“It is very difficult for us to get opportunities or advice or help as a minority-owned startup,” Lee acknowledged. “It’s a great opportunity. They connect us with advisers, and actually give us a real-life practical advice and then walk you through the system to be more ready to grow, as well as take investment.”

Once participants complete the program, they are eligible for seed money. Last year the ICA Fund served 117 Bay Area businesses, investing $2.4 million into 18 companies. The ICA Fund’s business accelerator accepts applications four times a year and the next one is open now.

Allison Kelly, CEO of the ICA Fund, said participants join a cohort of peers and receive one-on-one mentoring with a series of high-caliber advisers.

“For entrepreneurs of color and women entrepreneurs especially, having a trusted network and a peer group helps build confidence, which is a big driver in business success,” Kelly explained.

The program is funded by philanthropy and by the federal government. It is one of 10 nonprofit venture capital Certified Development Financial Institutions in the U.S., and the only one in California.