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The new director of a Hampton Roads program designed to connect and assist startups is a familiar face in the entrepreneurial community.

Aazia Mickens-Dessaso (Courtesy photo)

Aazia Mickens-Dessaso has been selected as the new executive director of ecosystem development for a new collaborative program between 757 Accelerate and the Colorado-based seed accelerator Techstars. The program, which was announced in November, will connect undiscovered founders with their peers, investors, and other resources.

“This role is really all about aggregating the founder community,” she said.

A Newport News native, Mickens-Dessaso co-founded a software development company in 2015, attracting the attention of the “Shark Tank” TV show investors during a White House event and winning a Start Peninsula pitch competition. The company didn’t pan out, but Mickens-Dessaso said she learned invaluable lessons about what the startup community needed. She also began to organize community events and meetups in her downtime, which she also plans to do in her new role.

Techstars, whose accelerator program companies are valued at over $32 billion, connected with Norfolk’s startup program 757 Accelerate through a GO Virginia grant. During the yearlong program, Mickens-Dessaso will be interviewing 100 founders in 100 days, creating a slate of programming for entrepreneurs, and leveraging Techstars’ resources to shine a spotlight on the Hampton Roads startup community.

“We see tremendous potential for the region to be home to a new wave of successful companies and we’re excited to help the community through this program,” Ian Hathaway, Techstars’ senior director, ecosystem development, said in a news release. “Under Aazia’s leadership, we have a credible, connected, and motivated grassroots organizer to focus on founders and serve the community on a day-to-day basis.”

757 Accelerate has been supporting Hampton Roads startups since 2018. The nonprofit program has raised more than $10 million for local startups and participating companies have generated more than $3.5 million in annual revenue and added 48 jobs to the local economy, according to the latest impact report.

To schedule a meeting with Mickens-Dessaso, visit The website also includes links to a weekly newsletter on entrepreneurship and a Slack channel designed to connect local founders.

Trevor Metcalfe, 757-222-5345,