Apr 24, 2017

Blackstone Innovation Grants: What We’re Learning

Since 2013, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation has deployed over $8 million in Blackstone Innovation Grants to support innovative organizations working with entrepreneurs.  As a result of these grants, organizations have expanded their reach and built new programs to support more ventures and create more jobs.  In the most recent cohort of grantees, Blackstone Innovation Grants program supported six organizations, and helped these organizations to successfully expand programs to ten states, enabling more than 1,500 entrepreneurs to achieve better business outcomes, with help from over 580 mentors.  

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Reflecting on the successes and challenges of grantees over the past year, the following themes have emerged:

Inclusion is a Priority.  Like the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, our portfolio of grantees is prioritizing inclusion and diversity within their own programs.  (For more on our programs, see our recent program announcements: Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge in Chicago and the Faces of Founders Campaign). Overall, 62% of all entrepreneurs in Blackstone-funded programs identified as minorities, and 55% were women.  With grantee, Coalition for Queens, 40% of participants were immigrants, reflective of the breakdown in Queens at large. With grantee Rising Tide Capital and Start Something Challenge, their statewide entrepreneurship competition across New Jersey, all 10 finalists were women and 9 out of 10 were women of color.  

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Sector and Place Matter.  Many of our grantees showed an increased interest in the intersection of sector and geography, as a way to better support entrepreneurs and to make a greater impact in a region. For example, DreamIt and UPenn worked together to build up the growing health care sector in Philadelphia. 4.0 Schools supported education entrepreneurs in New Orleans.  And Village Capital worked with energy entrepreneurs in key markets like Houston and Detroit.  By being specific and deliberate about place and sector, all organizations were able to increase their impact and help to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in their regions.

Be Flexible and Responsive.  Companies at different stages are in need of different kinds of resources.  When organizations learn what works (and what doesn’t) for the entrepreneurs they support, they can build more responsive and effective programs.   For example, DreamIt – which has evolved their programming to focus on post-seed stage companies – created an option for companies to participate remotely to better support them at this stage in their development.  4.0 Schools, which focuses on companies at a much earlier stage, made their programming flexible enough for their entrepreneurs to keep a full-time job while working to launch a new business.  Iowa Start Up Accelerator recognized that in order to have a more inclusive program, they needed to create more opportunities for entrepreneurs to join their accelerator.  They’ve restructured the program to allow for flexibility, while still focusing on producing high quality companies.

Customers and Capital Are Key. Customer experience is crucial for entrepreneurs, and many of our grantees prioritized providing customer discovery as a key part of their programming. By partnering with the local health systems, DreamIt Health, provided entrepreneurs in the program direct access to hospitals to test their ideas.  Similarly, 4.0 Schools, worked with schools in New Orleans to allow entrepreneurs to better understand their customers while building their own education companies.  In addition, access to capital, especially for entrepreneurs in smaller markets, is crucial.  Village Capital helped to solve for this by taking entrepreneurs to four cities where entrepreneurs had a chance to meet with potential investors in each location.  Iowa StartUp Accelerator helped to build up the investor network locally in Iowa by launching Corridor Angel Investors as part of their programming.  The group provides local angel investors access to deals from both from the Iowa Startup Accelerator program and other regional startups.

Companies are Doing Well by Doing Good.  Across the board, entrepreneurs in our programs are building companies that are combining profit with impact.  One Rising Tide entrepreneur built Partake Foods, an allergen-free baby food company, after her own child had an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts.  They have now launched two new products and are helping parents everywhere provide healthy, safe food for their children.  Similarly, Eko, a digital stethoscope company, was part of the DreamIt cohort.  In addition to recently closing a $2 million Series A funding round, the company is improving the quality of medical care and changing the game for telemedicine, for the hearing impaired, and for health education.  Moawia Eldeeb, a Coalition for Queens entrepreneur, founded SmartSpot, a  tech-based fitness tool that corrects a person's form in real time. Not only is his personal story inspiring (and profiled in a recent Upworthy video), his company has raised $1.85M in venture capital, all while helping to improve people’s health.  Finally, Village Capital’s Idle Smart, a tool for long-haul trucks that helps drivers save on fuel and reduce pollution, is helping to decrease the costs of long-haul trucking while also limiting their environmental impact.   These companies, like many of their peers, continue to support their communities, create jobs, and positively impact the world – all at the same time.

To learn more about our 2017 Blackstone Innovation Grantees, please visit:

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