Stonewall Columbus launching LGBTQ business accelerator

Katy Smith
Michael Smithson is vice president on the board at Stonewall Columbus.

Columbus’ LBGTQ advocacy organization opened applications Jan. 20 for the inaugural cohort of its LEAP Accelerator. LEAP stands for “LGBTQ+ Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program.”

LEAP is the brainchild of Columbus entrepreneur Michael Smithson, vice president of the board of trustees for Stonewall Columbus. “I was mentoring various friends of mine, including a transgender member of the community, who was really struggling to find a place of employment where they felt comfortable, where they could be fully authentic and open and be themselves,” says Smithson, who has started multiple companies. “And we talked about the idea of starting a business. I decided to create an educational program to help folks in our community, especially those who are more marginalized, to start businesses or grow businesses they already have.”

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LEAP will partner with another Columbus-based startup accelerator, SEA Change, for curriculum, and classes will be held online and at Stonewall.

There were 22 applications as the Feb. 9 deadline neared, says Lauren Edwards, executive director of SEA Change. LEAP participants will have access to all her organization’s resources and be considered alumni of its program, she says.

The nascent Pride Fund is making LEAP one of its first projects, says Managing Partner Timothy Wolf Starr. His second annual Venture Out event, to be held during Pride Weekend June 19-21, will feature a pitch competition among LEAP Accelerator participants, who will vie for funding from members of the venture capital community in attendance.

Katy Smith is editor of Columbus CEO.