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DBT40 Honoree: Garry Johnson

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Age: 24
Founder & Director,
First Founder’s Accelerator 

Describe your company:  The First Founder’s Accelerator is Delaware’s first startup boot camp designed to train early-stage, under-represented entrepreneurs, to develop scalable businesses. Our mission is to prepare under-represented founders for success in the innovation economy. This is made possible through a public-private partnership with local county government, business centers, and coworking spaces.

Why me?  I am passionate about empowering others through entrepreneurship. In college, I started an annual pitch competition empowering young men of color in Wilmington. I’ve since won national pitch competitions and have received awards such as StartUpAfrica’s Youth Entrepreneur of the Year and The Siegfried Award for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

Why should you be chosen for DBT 40?  I’d be honored to be considered for the DBT 40 since I’ve looked up to the recipients year after year, ever since my freshman year at UD. I’m committed to making Delaware and beyond a more inclusive place for entrepreneurs and change makers. The DBT 40 under 40 represents more than just an award, but a light of hope for others who look up to the change agents in the community. Representation matters, and when we have a diverse representation of our community’s leaders, we show the world not only who we are, but paint a picture of who we can really be.

 Professional accomplishments: 

  • Shawn & Sheryl McCall Award for Entrepreneurial Promise
  • UD Student Leadership Award
  • National Science Foundation I-Corps Sites Participant
  • Siegfried Award for Entrepreneurial Leadership
  • African American Chamber of Commerce Young Professional Advisory Council (201 ∙ Summer Founders Pre-Accelerator Graduate
  • vc Pitch Competition Winner
  • Hen Hatch Pitch Competition 2nd Place Winner
  • StartupAfrica Youth Entrepreneur of the Year Founder Gym Graduate
  • Delaware Business Times People to Watch
  • FunTimes Magazine 30 under 30
  • Noir Tank Pitch Competition Winner ∙
  • Dorm Room Fund Blueprint Project Graduate
  • P. Morgan Chase & Co. Advancing Black Entrepreneurs Participant

Leadership examples: I recently led a team of marketers, developers, and designers to develop a financial health startup during J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.’s Advancing Black Entrepreneurs startup competition. The First Founder’s Accelerator serves as an example of what other communities can do to build inclusive ecosystems. In 2017 I received the Siegfried Award for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Horn Entrepreneurship’s Siegfried Award recognizes a person or group for their contributions to advancing entrepreneurial leadership and knowledge.

Vision: I’ve always been someone who wants to share knowledge with my community. After I had participated in several pitch competitions at UD, I thought young people in the community that share a similar background as me could benefit from this kind of platform as well. Having so many young people show up and present their creative ideas, especially young people who otherwise wouldn’t have had an opportunity like that, was really awesome for me. Those experiences laid the groundwork for the First Founder’s Accelerator with support from New Castle County Innovates and 1313 Innovation. 

While I was in my master’s program, I traveled all over the country, doing research to understand how different communities were empowering entrepreneurs within their own ecosystems. I had this assumption that people of color and underrepresented entrepreneurs weren’t getting the same access to resources and opportunities as others. I also had the assumption that there were people in the community who had ideas but weren’t always getting the platforms that they needed. These assumptions were validated. Diversity in tech and entrepreneurship was a problem everywhere. My vision is of a world where access to opportunity is equally distributed, regardless of an individual’s socioeconomic status.

Community service: I recognized that many other young men like myself have their own personal dreams and aspirations as well and I wanted to create a platform for them to develop those dreams and make them a reality. With the help of the University of Delaware’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship and local nonprofits, I was given the resources necessary to make my own dream a reality while doing the same for others in the community. 

The “I Have a Dream” Pitch Competition was my first attempt at building a culture of entrepreneurship among youth in Wilmington. I used skills gained at Horn Entrepreneurship to validate that this was something the community needed. After spending my free time walking around the city and interviewing various local entrepreneurs, my hypothesis was verified: as kids, they had never been encouraged to pursue careers in entrepreneurship. 

I’ve also volunteered my time assisting organizations such as DelawareCan and TeenSHARP to support the growth and development of community members and high school students in Delaware.

Tell us something that’s not on your LinkedIn profile: I really enjoying taking nature photography on various Delaware trails and back roads.

Favorite book: “Cloud Atlas,” by David Mitchell

Next big goal? Launching a fintech-focused accelerator.

Favorite superhero?  Beast (X-Men).

Go-to song: “The Believer,” by Common

Advice 10 years ago? Don’t measure your success to that of another.

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