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$1.8 million partnership drives equity and inclusionDelta Dental and Lightship Capital

Delta Dental and Lightship Capital team up to support underrepresented entrepreneurs

Crain's Content Studio

Photo by Eric Thomas


General Partner | Lightship Capital

What attracted you to Detroit when deciding which cities in the Midwest would be a fit for your programming?

When we started talking about installing programming in other Midwestern cities, Detroit was at the top of our list. There’s a vibrant tech ecosystem with great companies across HealthTech, eComm/CPG and AI, which are our primary areas of focus for investing—so for us, it was a clear fit.

It also cannot be overlooked that Detroit is a ‘majority minority’ city where nearly 80% of the population includes citizens identifying as Black American. Programs offering underrepresented entrepreneurs access to mentorship, valuable networks, and really, organized guidance around scaling their businesses—are most necessary and likely to have a powerful economic impact here.

People in Detroit are building great things and there’s a great community of Fortune 500 partners for them to leverage, as well. We see this entrepreneur ecosystem as a frontier, full of underrepresented talent and possibilities ready to be realized—and we are grateful to Delta Dental and the city of Detroit for so warmly and excitedly welcoming us and our work to the city.

What is Lightship Capital’s vision for contributing to Detroit’s underrepresented entrepreneur ecosystem?

The overall mission is to empower, educate, fund and scale some great companies in this ecosystem. When founders have access to these resources, their chances of scaling and making real economic impact in the region increases exponentially—and when local businesses win, the community at large wins, too.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline that you’d like to share with us?

We have some interesting and exciting activations happening soon in Detroit. We’ve been cultivating partnerships with the local business community on projects ranging from pop-up restaurants and retail, to mobile dental care. These collaborations will include many of our existing portfolio companies, companies in our pipeline, and of course, Detroit based entrepreneurs – but more to come on all of that soon! Most importantly we’ll be hosting our entrepreneur education bootcamp series in Detroit, so that we can reach and teach as many local founders as possible.

What will those experiences look like?

The NewME Bootcamp is an immersive mentorship retreat for a cohort of 10 entrepreneurs building companies in various industries, including tech, health and ecommerce. They live together, share meals and have their business strategies critiqued and constructed in an intense schedule to take their business plans to the next level.

The dates and cities for the NewME bootcamps have yet to be set. One bootcamp and accelerator will be in Detroit. The usual NewME living arrangements will be changed in consideration of COVID-19, but the energy and value of the program will remain robust.

MARGARET TRIMERVice President of Strategic Partnerships | Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana

Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana is known for being involved in the community. Have the events of 2020 had an impact on your corporate citizenship?

The pandemic and the social unrest across America this year have absolutely had an impact on our corporate giving. They have strengthened our resolve to be a force for good in the communities where we do business and reminded us that we must be reflective and inclusive of local diversity.

This year we came face-to-face with serious racial and economic disparities in our nation. They took a toll on our friends, neighbors, colleagues and fellow citizens. The fix is multifaceted and includes civility, understanding and education as well as prosperity and equitable access to the tools, the training, the capital and a network of potential partners to build wealth. Delta Dental will focus on projects that provide opportunity and support to people who have been historically ignored or discriminated against.

How are you going to do that?

Women, people of color, those who identify as LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities have long been underestimated and have struggled to secure funding, mentoring and technical support for their business startups.

Delta Dental is entering a $1.8 million partnership with Lightship Capital, a new venture fund focused on underrepresented entrepreneurs in the Midwest. The Cincinnati-based fund doesn’t just invest in high potential startups. It surrounds them with support through two entrepreneurial education programs—Hillman, an accelerator, and NewME Bootcamp. The 4100 Group, a Delta Dental subsidiary formed to promote innovation and diversify Delta Dental’s book of business, invested $1 million in the fund. Delta Dental put in another $828,000 to fund bootcamps in several markets and an accelerator, which will be housed in Detroit early in 2021.

Why are you investing in this?

To borrow from a story we have all heard, Delta Dental believes building prosperity in underrepresented communities requires us to give entrepreneurs fish, teach them to fish and then give them access to boats so they can fish in the deep water—where the really big fish swim.

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