Former Kapor Capital Director Launches Founder Gym

The membership model is growing increasingly popular for businesses. You can get a membership for just about anything these days, and now there is one specifically for underrepresented startup founders looking to take their ventures to the next level.

Black Enterprise caught up with Mandela SH Dixon, founder and CEO of Founder Gym, who told us about her previous startup, how being at Kapor Capital helped with her current venture, and what she aims to do with Founder Gym.


What is your background? 

I am one of the only black women who has navigated the tech space as a VC-backed tech startup founder, global startup ecosystem builder, and VC portfolio services director. I have seen both sides of the table and all aspects of the ecosystem, and I am now leveraging my background in entrepreneurship, education (I started my career as a 6th grade teacher in South Central), and sports (I was a Division I collegiate soccer player) to train underrepresented founders on how to build successful tech startups.


Tell us about your previous venture before heading to Kapor Capital.

In 2011, I co-founded DemoLesson, the first teacher-hiring platform that replaced resumes with video, offering a new way to showcase teachers’ talents. It was backed by Kapor Capital, 500 Startups, and Imagine K12 (later acquired by Y Combinator), and we were utilized in over 28 countries. A few years later, I led a global entrepreneurial program called Startup Weekend Education (later acquired by Techstars) that spanned six continents and empowered thousands of entrepreneurs to launch edtech startups.


How did your role at Kapor help with your current venture?

Prior to Kapor Capital, I was an edtech founder and I helped other founders around the world launch edtech startups. Once I got to Kapor Capital, I was able to see how the other side—venture capital—worked. I learned about who investors were, how they operated, what they cared about, and how they made decisions, and I’ve been able to leverage these insights to better train founders who are seeking capital. Also, as my relationships with founders in the ecosystem grew over the years, I learned more about the realities of entrepreneurship post-funding. I realized that you can’t always believe what you read on the front page of the news and that many first-time founders, even those who are funded, struggle with finding their way. Also, via my own coaching programs, I realized that there is a particular need for underrepresented founders who don’t have the same safety nets—psychological, financial, or social—as their peers. All of these experiences, coupled with my time as a founder, educator, and athlete, influenced my decision to build a solution with my co-founder, Gabriela Zamudio, that we are confident can help underrepresented tech startup founders.


What is your aim for the online training center?

Founder Gym is the first online training center by underrepresented tech startup founders for underrepresented tech startup founders. Utilizing Silicon Valley investors and venture-backed founders as personal trainers, Founder Gym offers underrepresented founders a unique opportunity to learn the secrets of startup success in an environment that is specifically designed for them. We aim to level up underrepresented founders quickly so that they can grow their tech startups, get admitted into accelerator programs, and/or secure funding.


Can you tell us about some of the content/courses on the platform?

Our training programs are topic-based. Four weeks are spent going deep on a core tenet of startup success versus spending four weeks giving a surface level overview of various startup topics. The first cohort covers “Fundraising Basics,” and seasoned investors and founders train cohort members on the history of venture capital, what’s on the investor scorecard, and the unwritten rules of fundraising. The cohort wraps up with our version of a demo day where the cohort showcases what they’ve learned. Future Founder Gym cohorts will cover topics like hiring and managing technical talent, user growth, problem validation, and revenue. The program is highly selective and you must apply to be admitted. In the future, we will be offering free content for the public to access.


If people are interested in joining, how do they sign up?

Nov. 30 is the application deadline for our first cohort on Fundraising Basics, which launches on Jan. 8, 2018. You can learn more and apply at