Franchise Ascension Initiative Now Taking Applications

IFA Ascension Initiative

IFA’s Accelerator Program Targets Wealth Gap, Empowers Underrepresented Entrepreneurs

The Franchise Ascension Initiative, an accelerator program aimed at narrowing America’s wealth gap, has opened for business. This International Franchise Association program has an ambitious goal: to prepare people from underrepresented communities for successful franchise ownership. The six-month program, which will begin this August, combines education, mentorship and hands-on experiences. Any U.S. citizen may apply from now through June 15.  

IFA-Oxford Economics research has documented the financial benefits of franchising versus independent business ownership among minorities. It found that Black-owned franchises earn 2.2 times as much as their independent counterparts. And Hispanic franchisees post 1.6 times the sales of non-franchised Hispanic businesses, according to IFA statistics

An article by global law firm Nixon Peabody noted that underrepresented and economically disadvantaged Americans face three key challenges to entering franchising: funding access, needing a stronger business background to operate a franchise successfully, and lacking connections within the franchise industry. The Franchise Ascension Initiative will address those obstacles and more. 

How the Franchise Ascension Initiative Came About

Omar Simmons, an IFA board member and managing director of Exaltare Capital Partners, and his wife, Raynya, first envisioned the need for the Franchise Ascension Initiative and later provided seed money for it. Exaltare is a private-equity firm that has stakes in franchises such as Planet Fitness, Urban Air Adventure Park and Uni K Wax studios. 

The couple’s initial inspiration occurred when Shaquille O’Neal spoke about the power of generosity at the IFA Annual Convention in 2022. Raynya nudged Omar because she looked around the room and recognized an opportunity to expand diversity in franchising, Omar said.    

IFA Ascension Initiative
Omar Simmons, an IFA board member and managing director of Exaltare Capital Partners, and his wife, Raynya, first envisioned the need for the Franchise Ascension Initiative and later provided seed money for it.

“Growing up in inner-city Boston, we always felt inspired to do more. After the speech, we took a walk and discussed how we’ve been blessed by franchise ownership” and considered ways to lift up others by helping them own and run franchises. Then they recalled that Raynya’s niece had benefited greatly from an accelerator program. “We knew this was a concept that could take off in the franchising community,” he said.

“As a descendant of slaves who grew up in subsidized housing, I am living proof of the transformative power of access to opportunity, networks and dedication to continuous learning and hard work,” Omar stated in an IFA news release about the program’s launch. He considers franchising to be “a unique path to financial freedom… It is time to pay it forward so that even more people can have access to the same opportunities I had.” He foresees the program “sparking increased wealth creation in underrepresented communities.”

What is the Franchise Ascension Initiative?

These components comprise the program: 

  • Self-paced online and hands-on learning that includes assignments, case studies and mentorship. This segment will last about five months of the six-month program.  
  • Live online learning with instructors, mentorship, expert speakers and experiential assignments.
  • A pitch contest to present a specific franchise opportunity. This will require preparing a business and financial model as well as a presentation in front of a select group of franchisees, suppliers and/or franchisor executives.

Responding to a query about the Franchise Ascension Initiative, an IFA spokeswoman said in an email: “We want people to learn the keys to success for business ownership, financial management and how to select the best brand for them. We want to find serious entrepreneurs who eventually become franchise business owners. Growing businesses, creating jobs and economic growth, establishing generational wealth for all – and ultimately narrowing the wealth gap through franchise ownership.” She added that the initiative is “intended to support first-generation entrepreneurs, first-generation graduates, economically disadvantaged individuals and any other serious entrepreneurs seeking an opportunity for business ownership.”

IFA President and CEO Matt Haller underscored the program’s significance in the news release announcing its launch. “This program ensures that access to opportunity is available to everyone, regardless of background. What better way to bridge the wealth gap than through opening more doors for aspiring business owners from all walks of life?” 

To find out more about the program and to apply, click here.

Contributors and Continuation

This is only the beginning for the Franchise Ascension Initiative. The spokeswoman’s email predicted the program will last many years and said the IFA expects other franchisors, suppliers and individuals to join in with financial support. In addition to Omar and Raynya Simmons, initial donors of $100,000 or more were Self Esteem Brands, Dine Brands Global Foundation Inc., DLA Piper, East Coast Wings + Grill, Good Feet Worldwide LLC, Ignite Fitness Holding, Inspire Brands, Lathrop GPM and Planet Fitness. A full list of supporters and founding committee members is available here.

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Mary Vinnedge is an award-winning journalist who has served as editor in chief, managing editor and senior editor at national and regional publications, including SUCCESS and Design NJ magazines. She also held reporting and editing roles at The Dallas Morning News and Charlotte Observer newspapers.

Before Mary began covering franchise news and trends as a staff writer for FranchiseWire and Franchise Consultant Magazine, she developed articles on topics ranging from lifestyle, education, health and science to home projects, horticulture, gardening, interior design and architecture. These articles included her reporting on academic news at her alma mater, Texas A&M University, when Mary worked in the marketing department of the Texas A&M Foundation. She continues to be a news junkie and subscribes to several publications.

Today Mary and her husband are empty nesters living on Galveston Island near Houston. The couple’s blended family – scattered around the United States – includes five children, four grandchildren and two very spoiled, very barky miniature schnauzer rescues.
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