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Dwyane Wade, Rosario Dawson Back New ‘Forward’ Accelerator for Black, Latinx Business Minds

Through April 1, commerce technology giant Square is working with venture capital groups and a who’s who list of celebrities to field applications from Black and Latino entrepreneurs looking to join its the inaugural ‘Forward’ accelerator program.

The program will select 25 businesses, all less than three years old, that belong to the clothing and accessories, health and beauty, home goods and furniture, or food and beverage sectors, to be part of the first cohort. Each will be awarded $20,000 and each provided checking and savings accounts with the Afterpay owner and set up with the payments company’s hardware and software.

Mentorship training, put together in partnership with the Black-owned venture capital firm 1863 Ventures, includes the likes of movie star and sustainable fashion champion Rosario Dawson, NBA champion Dwyane Wade, bestselling author Ayesha Curry and “Earn Your Leisure” financial podcasters Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings.

When the program is completed in early June, Forward participants will be invited to attend a capstone event in Miami where they will have the opportunity to meet like-minded business owners, showcase their businesses, and celebrate the experience, according to Square chief marketing officer Lauren Weinberg.

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“We hope to provide these businesses with the foundational tools and guidance fit for each of their unique business needs to truly set them up for long-term success,” Weinberg told Sourcing Journal. “Square’s products have the power to help businesses automate their operations and create new revenue streams, and we hope these business owners are able to capitalize on this potential.”

Among the mentorship partners in the Forward program is the Social Change Fund United, started in 2020 by Wade, along with fellow NBA stars Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul to address issues affecting the Black community.

Dwyane Wade

“We launched the Social Change Fund United with the goal of creating a more fair and equitable society in part through economic investment and efforts to support minority-owned businesses,” Wade said. “By partnering with Square today to launch Forward, we’re meeting those goals and helping to ensure that entrepreneurs of color have the opportunity to make their business ideas come to life in a lasting way.”

Chief among the SCFU’s priorities have been police and criminal justice reform, voting rights and increasing civic engagement in the Black community to include supporting entrepreneurial efforts.

“As a business owner myself, I understand how critical it is to have the right tools and mentorship when getting started,” Wade said.

Dawson, who is of Puerto Rican and Afro-Cuban descent, has more than 80 films and 30 TV shows to her credit, as well as co-founding Studio One Eighty Nine in 2013, an e-commerce platform that promotes African fashion.

Rosario Dawson

“Latinos open businesses at a rate about 55 percent higher than their white counterparts, and still have a harder time staying in business and getting the support they need to grow,” Dawson said in a statement.“By launching Forward, we’re eager to help entrepreneurs of color in the retail sector overcome systemic barriers and make their budding businesses grow.”

Weinberg said Square has been creating materials tailored to suit Latino business owners.

“Last year, we announced the availability of our entire product ecosystem in Spanish in an effort to meet sellers where they are and support them as they serve their communities,” Weinberg said. “Square also commissioned a study recently to explore the challenges and opportunities facing Latino business owners and found that raising capital, acquiring customers, maintaining staff, and effectively marketing their businesses were among the most important hurdles.”

Curry, the wife of Golden State Warriors’ star Stephen Curry, has made a name for herself as an author and CEO of her company Sweet July, an e-commerce food and lifestyle site, as well as a magazine of the same name and a flagship store in Oakland.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to work with Square to launch Forward, and be able to assist deserving entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities to provide the resources and mentorship they need to build their businesses and pursue their passions,” Curry said in a statement.

Weinberg said only 4 percent of Black-owned businesses survive the startup stage even though 20 percent start businesses of their own and that a Stanford University study found that Hispanic-owned businesses are 60 percent less likely to be approved by national banks compared to Whites. She said a Square study found Hispanic-owned businesses state raising capital as their greatest challenge (30 percent), while 24 percent said growing their business was the greatest hurdle.

“This reflects a need for greater financial literacy and education,” Weinberg said.

The rise of social media has undoubtedly leveled the field considerably for small businesses. Weinberg pointed to a recent Square study that found 91 percent of all retailers now sell goods through social media channels.

“As socials become a more mainstay strategy for retailers, small businesses need to be really smart and create content that’s authentic to their brand and be conscious of compatibility for each social channel,” she said.

Square, which was launched in 2009 by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and Jim McKelvey, began as a little white attachment placed atop smartphones to swipe credit cards, turning the most casual forms of commerce into a state-of-the-art point of sale, is expanding its horizons with the Forward program.

“Because Square succeeds when our sellers succeed, we’re fully invested in providing entrepreneurs of color with the tools they need to thrive,” said Naomi Wheeless, Global Head of Customer Success for Square. Forward is the result of a lot of hard work and dedication from talented employees across the Square organization who are committed to seeing minority-owned businesses make it past the startup stage and go on to thrive.”

To be considered for the cohort, businesses must have been founded by or have a current CEO who identifies as Black/African American or Latino, among other requirements. Interested applicants can review the full list of parameters and submit an application at