Last spring, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation awarded one-year grants totaling $3 million to 19 non-profit organizations through the Blackstone Innovation Grants program. In selecting this unique group, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation sought out organizations that support promising entrepreneurs and foster the growth of successful businesses, industries, and communities. These grants specifically allowed these innovative organizations to create or expand upon regional programs and produce impactful events that support and spread the ideals of entrepreneurship.
Success of Programs
Although the organizations varied significantly in goals and scope, together they exhibited notable successes, carried out among 651 unique ventures. The BIG grantees brought together 989 mentors and 3356 entrepreneurs, 38% of whom were engaging in entrepreneurship for the first time.
The variety of ventures supported by these grants demonstrates the potential for entrepreneurship to promote regional growth in key areas throughout the United States and globally. The reach of the grantees extends across 13 U.S. states, Washington D.C., the United Kingdom, South Africa, India, and the Middle East, and continues to expand with the support of the 2015 Blackstone Innovation Grants:
- TechnoServe has established the Empowering Women Entrepreneurs program for female entrepreneurs in India
- African Leadership Academy (ALA) has trained young entrepreneurs in Africa
- Energy Excelerator has built further partnerships with clean-energy startups in Asia Pacific
- Seeds of Peace has used entrepreneurship to connect communities in Abu Dhabi, Tel Aviv, & Jericho
Support for Powerful Leadership
The selected grantees demonstrated their outstanding growth and future potential with a number of notable successes for their founders, organizations, and entrepreneurs:
- Coalition for Queens selected as Apple diversity partner, and founder Jukay Hsu named in Crain’s “40 under 40”
- SEED SPOT ranked one of “Top 3 Social Impact Incubators” by Cisco and UBI Global
- Bethnal Green Ventures’ Andiamo won Richard Branson’s Talent Unleashed global competition
- Energy Excelerator co-founder Dawn Lippert received C3E award for Advocacy Leadership
Key Blackstone Support
While BIG grantees certainly exhibited individual successes, their responses at the conclusion of the grant period highlight that Blackstone Innovation Grants were integral to their continued success. One of the key benefits that the grantees noted was a greater ability to test out and refine their programs, piloting entirely new programs and expanding existing programs to new locations.
- African Leadership Academy: “This funding from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation has specifically allowed ALA to systematically measure the effectiveness, impact, and reach of the BUILD-in-a-Box at a level that could not have been achieved without it.”
- Tumml: “The Blackstone Charitable Foundation has always pushed us to think bigger- and success and high-profile nature of The Placemakers has certainly helped to cement Tumml’s place as the leading advocate for urban impact entrepreneurship”
- Bethnal Green Ventures: “Now that we have the evidence that this support works, we’re confident that future investors and funders will see the value in us allocating budget to alumni community support.”
Evaluating the challenges of the recent cohort of BIG grantees has provided the Blackstone Charitable Foundation with key insights that can improve the experiences of grantees and allow the organizations to support entrepreneurs more effectively:
- Attracting & Retaining Mentors: Multiple grantees recognized the challenges for potential mentors of committing to ongoing mentorship programs. In order to mitigate this problem, organizations must ensure that they can create meaningful impact while respecting the time constraints and busy schedules of their mentors.
- Addressing Ranges of Skills & Experience: One grantee noted that “participants frequently stressed that a major challenge for the program was the varied interests and challenges of the entrepreneurs,” as smaller businesses required interpersonal skills while mature entrepreneurs sought higher-level management techniques. Due to the unique diversity of ventures, organizations that support entrepreneurs must create programming that accommodates the backgrounds and skillsets of their entrepreneurs.
- Considering the Entrepreneurial Schedule: Entrepreneurs have demanding schedules, so organizations must recognize the need to create programs that do not discourage busy entrepreneurs from committing. For example, one grantee found that the length of their program – an eight-month program, supplemented by phone calls and homework assignments – was often overly time-consuming for many entrepreneurs with busy schedules.
In selecting the 2015 BIG grantees, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation has sought organizations that foster lasting impact on the lives of their entrepreneurs. Over the past year alone, the 2015 BIG grantees have improved the financial security of their entrepreneurs in various forms:
- Grantees fostered the creation of 2,169 new jobs, a number that grew over the course of the year
- Grantee Coalition for Queens reported that their Access Code program increased participant incomes on average from $18,000 to $85,000
- One Accion participant saved her career with the assistance of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation funded Fast Track program: “When I started, I had considered closing my business and this program helped me to keep and improve it.”
To learn more about our 2015 Blackstone Innovation Grantees, please click here.