Accelerating inclusive entrepreneurship

Launched in 2017, the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge provided underserved entrepreneurs in Chicago greater access to resources and opportunities for growth by investing in local non-profits who scaled their programs. On November 17, 2020, Chicago Ideas hosted a conversation with the program leaders, which was led by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, World Business Chicago, and ChicagoNEXT. 

The Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge was a pioneering effort in the city to promote equal access to resources for entrepreneurs and innovators across Chicago. The three-year program specifically served entrepreneurs of color, women, military veterans and diverse young people – underrepresented communities within the local tech and innovation ecosystem. Over the course of the past three years, the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge $3 million funding helped develop and scale innovative programming for its grantees, which included WesLeaping the Chasm t Side Forward, Bunker Labs, and Future Founders.

In partnership with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, “Leaping the Chasm” explores the validity of the novel hypothesis of the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge: can local, direct-service entrepreneurial support organizations effectively use large-scale funding to develop and expand new services over a multi-year timeframe? The real-world test of this hypothesis, through the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge, provided three key takeaways:

  1. The efficacy of creating local, large-scale and sustained grant programs was confirmed
  2. The length of the program was of great value – and suggests an even longer timeline would be more impactful
  3. Bringing together disparate groups can create challenges in balancing flexibility and oversight

Over the course of the challenge, the work of the three grantees proved that long-term support allows small city-focused nonprofits and nationwide organizations alike to build a more inclusive entrepreneurial future within underserved communities. Accumulated grantee achievements include:

  • Nearly 8,500 entrepreneurs enrolled in cohort programs
  • Over 6,000 courses and workshops held
  • 81 new companies formed, and over 200 companies generating revenue

Leaping the Chasm provides an in-depth exploration of the strengths and room for growth of the funding model created by the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge. 


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