5 Questions with Zaneta Kelsey, Co-Founder and CEO of Access Mode

Oct 20, 2022

Zaneta Kelsey, Co-founder and CEO of Access Mode, is a business strategist who has worked in multiple industries with expertise in hardware and software technology and marketing. She has enjoyed working with and for some of the largest tech companies in the world, as well as, with startups and nonprofits. While she has had a robust career with opportunities to advance and engage with influential companies and leaders, it has not come without challenges. As a black woman, she is acutely aware of the systemic issues and barriers to advancement that plague the fabric of business in our country.

During the pandemic, Zaneta had the opportunity to volunteer with Energize Colorado, a nonprofit created to help small businesses survive and then thrive beyond the pandemic, in Colorado. In that role, she received a quick education about the disparities that ethnic minority business owners faced in receiving funding and other support services for their businesses. She decided that she wanted to be a conduit for helping this segment of business owners access much-needed resources, which led to her creating the nonprofit, Access Mode.

Co-founded with Kevin Allen, Access Mode is an early-stage business accelerator program providing education, mentoring, networking, community, and access to capital for Black, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Indigenous founders of technology-enabled businesses.

01. What is the elevator pitch for Access Mode?

Access Mode cultivates early-stage, venture-ready tech companies founded by Black, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Indigenous entrepreneurs. We provide support for ideas that require investment to scale. Access Mode is here to address systemic issues in the tech ecosystem through community building, ideation enrichment, pipeline generation, business incubation, and business acceleration. Additionally, we provide a $20,000 grant for each business and up to $10,000 in service credits to advance their progress toward MVP and paid customer traction.

02. How does Access Mode create a more diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem?

One of our goals is to support the advancement of 100 businesses founded by the aforementioned underrepresented tech founders by 2027. While our initial program is focused on early-stage startups, we have already developed a community of founders at various stages of their entrepreneurial journey and capital allocators who are aligned with our mission in Colorado and beyond. Additionally, we are building a mentor database of subject matter experts who reflect the cultural background of our founders and our organizational values: empowerment, empathy, transparency, trust, and accretion. We are creating inclusive opportunities for business and corporate leaders of color to enrich founders and build strong connections.

03. How will support from the Techstars Foundation and the Techstars network further the mission of Access Mode?

Organizations like Techstars are incredibly important in helping us achieve our goals such as the one we have set for extending access for 100 companies by 2027. We need funding support, coupled with expertise in nonprofit growth and management to achieve our aggressive goal. Having a partner like Techstars that believes in our mission, supports us with funding and other resources, and amplifies our messaging, is a model that all businesses should follow to help open access for all.

04. How did you come to do this work and why is it important to you personally?

I believe all roads have led to this pivotal moment in my life. When I left my corporate role after having just completed the Colorado Governor's Fellowship in 2019, I thought I would take some time to focus on being with my family, friends, church, and garden. Instead, and like for so many, the pandemic had a profound effect on my evaluation of the amount of time I have to truly make a lasting impact - one that my sons would be proud of, just as my father modeled for me with his life. I have friends and family members who have struggled for years to find ways to fund and grow their businesses but have been denied loans and other measures of support because they have not met the selection criteria.

Additionally, I have been in and around the technology industry for most of my life and career. I fundamentally believe that tech-enabled businesses have the best potential for scale and wealth building. If the underinvested founders in tech are given access to the resources they need to build their business, I believe that will in turn lead to workforce and economic development in communities of color. I want to help bridge this gap for underinvested and underestimated founders because they are exceptional and resilient. I invite anyone who is mission-aligned to join me in making an impact in this area. We need your financial support and allyship.

05. Tell us the story of an entrepreneur you are proud to have supported.

Maurice Dukes is the founder of PetroFunders. Maurice and I met through our connection to the National Society of Black Engineers. Maurice founded a fin-tech investment platform in the Oil and Gas industry. He impressively raised his first round through crowdfunding in combination with social media. Maurice was one of the first founders we met when we began our community-building networking events. I am proud that Access Mode helped create more access to capital for his company, having introduced him to additional funders. His company is growing by meeting a need for investors in this sector and deserves all the capital consideration to scale.  Access Mode is a participant in the Accelerate Equity program of the Techstars Foundation in 2022.

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