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Builders + Backers, an accelerator program and investment firm that backs entrepreneurs at the idea stage, finds, funds, and equips builders nationwide.

“We want to put more ideas into action,” said Kathleen Hale, Partner at Builders + Backers.

Donna Harris, a native of Detroit, founded Builders + Backers and previously founded 1776 Ventures and served as managing director of the Startup American Partnership during the Obama Administration. Harris is also ranked as one of the top 25 female early-stage investors in the United States in 2021 and 2022.

The traditional VC model doesn’t work for most entrepreneurs. It was “leaving a lot of ideas on the sidelines,” Hale said. That’s where Builders + Backers comes in. The 90-day virtual accelerator provides funding and support to take the idea from the start to scaling it into a bigger venture, Hale said. Builders + Backers gives its entrepreneurs a $5,000 investment from its Pebble Fund to test the idea. It’s provided to the founder with a Stripe credit card. The Idea Accelerator program and the Pebble Fund are supported by philanthropic donations from partners and sponsors, including Heartland Forward, a think-and-do tank based in Bentonville, Arkansas. Along with the Pebble Fund, Builders + Backers invests in startups all the way from Seed Stage to Series C. 

Builders + Backers launched in early 2021 and has held six cohorts. To date, nearly 400 people have gone through the accelerator and over 100 new ventures. Everything from a nonprofit organization to a VC-ready startup has launched; as a result, Hale said.

The economic impact is huge, Hale said.

“We need a variety of ventures to have a thriving economy,” Hale said.

An estimated 60 percent of Americans have an idea to start a business, which equates to millions of ideas, and last year, VCs funded less than 5,000 deals, Hale said. That’s a lot of ideas that need to be shifted through to find the gold, she said.

“In this moment in time in the digital world, the ability to startup and test an idea is easier than ever,” Hale said.

She said tools like Canva, Wix, Square Space, and more make testing those ideas easy.

Builders + Backers also want to be in all of the places where ideas are, Hale said.

Last year, Builders + Backers hired Marisa Vickers, based in Austin, as its Director of Global Brand Growth. She’ll be at SXSW 2023 along with Hale, Builders + Backers COO.

At South by Southwest 2023, Builders + Backers is one of the sponsors of Midwest House, which showcases Midwest startups and innovation. It is open Friday, March 10th through Tuesday, March 14th, at Half Step Bar at 75 1/2 Rainey Street. It is free and open to the public. On March 11th at noon to 1 p.m., Hale will participate in a fireside chat about “Fueling Innovation: New Tools for Funding More Ventures!” moderated by CS Freeland, founder of the Texas Venture Association.

In addition, one of Builder + Backers builders, Narayan Iyer of Laminar Scientific, will be featured at the SXSW pitch competition as one of the top 5 finalists for “World Changing Technologies.” Laminar Scientific is an American Ocean Energy company that has developed several inventions and improvements in ocean wave energy that aim to improve efficiency, reduce LCOE, simplify sea maintenance, and reduce its frequency. Before the pitch, he will also participate in a private panel discussion regarding sustainability for the Austrian SXSW delegation. 

Additionally,  other Builder + Backers portfolio companies, Chris Cummings of Iconic Moments and Clint Carlos of Soar, will also participate in panel discussions with the Austrian delegation. Carlos of Soar will speak on Technologies for Tomorrow for on Friday, and Cummings will speak on Trends in Media and Creativity at a Tech Breakfast Panel on Monday.

Builder + Backer VC Associate Mychal Richardson will also be a judge for the upcoming SXSW Startup of the Year competition held on March 12 from 11:30-12:30 PM.

At SX, Builders + Backers also promotes the Tulsa Idea Challenge with Atento Capital and Tulsa Remote. The Tulsa Idea Challenge is a two-day entrepreneurial workshop and competition for Tulsans to learn how to transform an idea into action. Applications are open now, and the event will take place in downtown Tulsa from April 27-29. Builders + Backers is partnering with Atento Capital and Tulsa Remote on The Tulsa Challenge, which will award $50,000 to the top teams.