New entrepreneurship academy at VCU to bring together students and community members

The academy will provide opportunities for underrepresented students to develop 21st-century entrepreneurship skills in “a blended learning environment.”

Kelli Lemon, Rasheeda Creighton and Melody Short.
Jackson Ward Collective co-founders Kelli Lemon, Rasheeda Creighton and Melody Short. Lemon, bottom left, earned her master’s degree from VCU in sports management and leadership. (Courtney Jones, The Jones Photography & Media Company)

Virginia Commonwealth University’s da Vinci Center for Innovation is joining with the Jackson Ward Collective — a Richmond business hub created to promote and increase Black entrepreneurship — and Activation Capital to develop a new model to increase innovation and entrepreneurship among underrepresented students.

The VCU Entrepreneurship Academy will bring together 150 students — with a focus on first-generation college students and low-income students — and 50 community members identified by Activation Capital and the Jackson Ward Collective in a blended learning environment to develop skills in design thinking, digital literacy, the art of the pitch, and business model canvas.

“Activation Capital is proud to partner with VCU and the Jackson Ward Collective on this initiative to test a new model for university and community collaboration,” said Chandra Briggman, president and CEO.

The academy, coupled with a new entrepreneurship facility on Broad Street — VCU’s Student Storefront — will create ongoing and sustainable mentorship, networking and employment opportunities. Those completing the academy will have a chance for a period of free space in the Broad Street storefront.

“The opportunity to support VCU students and Black entrepreneurs who are members of the Jackson Ward Collective through an entrepreneurship academy and physical storefront on the VCU campus is aligned with our overall vision and fosters important conversations about race, equity and opportunity in Richmond and beyond,” said Melody Short, co-founder of the Jackson Ward Collective.

“Our ultimate goal is to learn, grow and own in the Black community, and we know that we do that best when we do it together,” Short said.

A logo for the VCU Entrepreneurship Academy with logos for Activation Capital, The Jackson Ward Collective, and the VCU da Vinci Center.
The VCU Entrepreneurship Academy will provide opportunities for underrepresented and low-income students. (Courtesy da Vinci Center for Innovation)

Short and fellow local business owners Rasheeda Creighton and Kelli Lemon — the latter a VCU graduate and former employee — founded the Jackson Ward Collective last fall amid discussions they had regarding challenges faced by Black business owners and the need to create opportunities to improve their economic prospects.

The VCU Entrepreneurship Academy was made possible through a $50,000 grant from the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities’ Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, a network of 37 public urban research universities working to drive transformational institutional change.

“As a leading urban public research university, VCU is an important catalyst for the future of higher education,” said Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the da Vinci Center. “This grant will allow VCU and the da Vinci Center for Innovation to serve students in new ways, like the storefront on Broad Street, and continue to build a more inclusive and innovative ecosystem through community partnership.” 

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