Earlier this month, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation brought its expertise on entrepreneurship to SOCAP16, an event focused on the intersection of capital and social causes. We sat down with Tony Tolentino, Vice President in the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, to discuss the event.
1. Tell us about why the Blackstone Charitable Foundation decided to sponsor SOCAP this year.
For us, the event was a perfect opportunity to bring our message to a new audience of impact investors and social entrepreneurs, and participate in conversations around the role of entrepreneurship today.
2. What panels were we participating in?
I sat on a panel focused on inclusive entrepreneurship, speaking with other entrepreneurs and thought leaders about the importance of diversity and the challenges that minority and female entrepreneurs face. I also moderated a panel on public/private partnerships, and how city governments are collaborating with entrepreneurs to solve urban challenges.
3. Why do you think Inclusive Entrepreneurship was an important topic for us to speak on?
We have a broad footprint, working with a wide range of entrepreneurs. And in looking at the make-up of our networks, we saw that we were unfortunately in-line with the underwhelming national averages of female and minority entrepreneurs. We realize that we can do better.
For example, our LaunchPad program on college campuses, only 36% of participants are women. That’s better than many entrepreneurship programs across the country, but out of sync with trends of more women enrolling in universities than men. How can we improve on this?
Through our internal conversations, it was obvious that this was an area where we could bring both a lot of insight and resources to an important challenge, so we wanted to join the conversation.
4. What aspects of the conversation really stood out to you? Anything that shifted your perspective on the topic?
For me, the biggest take-away was how important it is for organizations like ours to bring these ‘excluded’ voices into the dialogue early and often. Inclusion requires real engagement and often difficult conversations. The entire panel agreed that you can’t be inclusive in a bubble.
It was also interesting to hear entrepreneurs take the long-view on this challenge. Panelists spoke about the power of minority successful entrepreneurs and investors, and how their ability to invest in and support more diverse entrepreneurs will have real multiplier effect. The key is to create the right environment to enable this change.
5. What do you think the next steps are for the Charitable Foundation on inclusion? What comes next?
What we love about this topic is that it fits in perfectly with what our organization does well – creating the networks and resources to help entrepreneurs thrive. We’re focusing our attention on how we can make this a more important aspect of our existing programs, and are actively joining the dialogue on how we can help further this effort moving forward.
We’ve recently started a partnership with the Case Foundation on their initiative, ‘Faces of Founders’ – the focus of the effort is about changing perceptions of what an entrepreneur looks like. A highlight of the week at SOCAP was our joint photo booth, where we collected stories and offered complimentary professional headshots to all aspiring entrepreneurs.
6. You also moderated a panel on civic entrepreneurship. What about that discussion stood out to you?
As all my colleagues already know, as an urban planner, I find the intersection of cities and entrepreneurs fascinating. I organized and led a panel that featured two Blackstone Innovations Grant recipients, Tumml and Black Founders.
Our conversation was not just on how cities can support entrepreneurs, but rather how entrepreneurs can support their cities and create real systemic change by partnering with city agencies and local governments. It was exciting to see a lot of our beliefs, like the value of partnerships, brought to life in such an exciting space.
7. Any other exciting moments from the event?
It was great to see so many of our partners and collaborators throughout the week, including our friends at Nesst, Tumml, Energy Excelerator, Coalition for Queens and Village Capital.
You can watch both of our panels below…
Panel #1: Am I an Entrepreneur? Challenging the Stereotypes
Panel #2: Public/ Private Partnerships: How Can Cities Engage Their Entrepreneurs?