Getting In the Arena: Good Ideas and Innovations Often Come From Unexpected Places

Through the first 20 years of the Case Foundation, we’ve covered a lot of ground and been to a lot of places. Along the way, we have found that innovations come from people and places that might surprise you. While news reports focus on the power of Silicon Valley or financial centers like New York and London, we have found numerous great ideas and passionate innovators in places policymakers, funders and trend watchers have often overlooked.

Three U.S. cities are great examples of the excitement and innovation that we have found:

Pittsburgh: In Pittsburgh, we found a unique combination of incubators, accelerators, universities, tech companies and investors, driving this former steel town to experience a resurgence in the form of a technology boom. While many still think of Pittsburgh as the Steel City, the engineer and technology ecosystem that has sprung up in the aftermath of the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s is one of the reasons that Ford pledged in February to invest $1 billion over five years in a Pittsburgh-based company specializing in artificial intelligence and autonomous car engineering. This community of innovators, incubators and educators is creating a wide range of interesting projects. Pittsburgh innovators we met ranged from Courtney Williamson, founder of AbiliLife, a biomedical company that engineer’s devices for Parkinson’s patients to Vaish Krishnamurthy of CleanRobotics, whose Trash bot uses artificial intelligence to sort recyclables from waste, to Matthew Stanton and Hahna Alexander, cofounders of SolePower*, a technology that uses a foot-powered energy generating insole that can be used to charge portable devices—something of particular interest to the U.S. Army. Even the accelerators in Pittsburgh like AlphaLab Gear bring a unique vision that reflects the best of the region where they are located, supporting hundreds of innovators, expanding understanding of the excellence of the companies in the area and attracting significant outside capital to the region.

Durham: On our recent visit to Durham, we found a renaissance is occurring in the city. Yes, there are tech stories to tout, but the real story is of citizens, companies, institutions and Duke University coming together to invest, expand and reclaim downtown Durham for growth while ensuring that all that defines this community as a thriving, American town includes those who have stayed and those that played a role in making Durham, well…Durham.

At American Underground hundreds of entrepreneurs—from single person startups to ventures like Fidelity Labs, Fidelity’s R&D and innovation catalyst unit—sit side-by-side, creating new companies and pursuing new business ideas in a space where they can also receive the training, accelerator classes and support from Google for Entrepreneurs that rising startups need to take their great ideas to the next level. And we saw the American Tobacco Campus, where local business leaders had transformed the abandoned corporate headquarters of the company that marketed “Lucky Strikes” into a multifaceted center that housed restaurants, businesses and cultural hubs—like the local NPR affiliate and the YMCA—that are helping fuel the dynamic ecosystem that downtown Durham has become.

Detroit: Detroit’s rebirth can only be described as epic. Left for dead by most after the 2008 economic crisis, visionaries like Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert and entrepreneur Tom Kartsotis have helped not only build strong companies, but create thousands of jobs for out-of-work Detroit citizens, giving them an opportunity to prosper as part of the modern economy. Gilbert, who moved Quicken Loans and all of its employees to Detroit, has invested heavily in Detroit real estate, helped dozens of startups, and now employs an estimated 12,500 people. The portraits of those who have found jobs at the companies that have started in Detroit since the Great Recession or started businesses that are fueled by this resurgence highlight how new skills and a new way of thinking about work is being created in the shadows of the once great automobile industry. Detroit’s renaissance is also thanks to the visionary collaboration between the private sector and leading philanthropies, including our colleagues at the Kresge, Ford and Kellogg Foundations. Their work in bringing all sectors of the society to the table is a key to the broad based impact the economic and social revitalization has has had. Detroit has a long way to go, but the new ideas and optimism coming from this city sets a great model for others to follow.

While the names of the local startups and visionaries are often the first thing that one remembers from these trips, one of the great advantages these cities have is community and all the diversity of actors that brings with it. It is as if they have chosen to turn their backs on the “go it alone” mentality and see a competitive advantage in getting as many sectors of their society as engaged as possible. In Pittsburgh, the role of Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, as well the role of Deloitte, Accenture and Barclays in innovation initiatives cannot be left out of a proper telling of the rebirth in Pittsburgh. While touring the American Underground facility in Durham with Doug Speight, the CODE2040 Entrepreneur in Residence and guru behind many Durham startups including Cathedral Leasing, he mentioned that women lead 29 percent of the projects housed in American Underground’s Durham sites and 28 percent are minority led. This was evident as we walked the hallways, and it makes American Underground one of the most diverse incubators in America, reflecting the fabric of the Durham experience. And the breadth of the players involved in rebuilding Detroit—from automobile companies to community organizers and political leaders, to philanthropists and entrepreneurs—highlights both the scale of the task and how they are committed to ensure as many as possible share in the benefits of rebuilding as possible.

This spirit is not limited to the United States. Great ideas and innovation, informed by the unique perspective that different lifestyles and backgrounds bring, are found worldwide.

While touring Africa, we met numerous entrepreneurs who were crafting new innovations informed directly from their personal experiences. In Nairobi, we visited a sanitation company, Sanergy. Sanergy’s vision is bold and robust: attack a massive hygiene and sanitation problem across communities by not only providing toilets to underserved areas, but by building a comprehensive entrepreneurship-driven model that creates jobs in underserved communities. Converting the waste into organic fertilizer, insect-based animal feed, and renewable energy, Sanergy’s model is emblematic of new approaches we saw throughout Africa.

In Iceland, I met Thor Sigfusson, the leader of the Iceland Ocean Cluster. This startup accelerator in Reykjavik houses 80 startups that are building businesses to use 100% of the fish—from salmon skin clothing to cosmetic products made of fish bones to nutrition and medical supplements from organs of the fish. The idea is that if more fisherman could capture value from 100 percent of the fish, they would need less fish take to make a living, leading to more sustainable fishing practices for the whole country. And given that Iceland takes 80 million cod out of their waters, their impact could be significant.

And as co-chair of the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership (UPP), a public/private partnership launched after the Annapolis peace talks, I saw firsthand the progress that can be made when communities are given a chance and the tools to innovate. UPP promoted economic and educational opportunities for the Palestinian people in order to facilitate progress toward a two-state solution, wherein Israel and Palestine can live side by side, in peace, security and prosperity. Linking support of young entrepreneurs by world-class tech companies like Google and Cisco, and launching the first-ever Venture Capital fund in the West Bank, represented hope and promise for new economic activity, particularly in the impressive IT sector in the region. This, coupled with affordable loan programs for small businesses, the building of new youth centers, helping to foster tourism, and leading business delegations, contributed to increase economic activity and helped demonstrate that the West Bank is open for business and that great ideas and innovations come from all places, including the West Bank.

These are just a few of the hundreds of examples of innovators and entrepreneurs who are Getting In the Arena in communities worldwide. We have found innovation in all sectors coming from all corners of the world. As we look forward to the next 20 years of work, we believe that the next great ideas will come from these overlooked people and places and, frankly, this makes us more excited than ever to see what they create and to identify what we can do to support their efforts to get the attention, and investment, they deserve.

*Disclosure: Jean and Steve Case are investors in SolePower. 

34 Organizations Building Social Capital for Diverse Entrepreneurs to Follow on Twitter

Accelerator. Incubator. Ecosystem Builder. Social Capital. These words are commonly used in the startup world, but can feel like jargon to those unfamiliar with the entrepreneurship space. They describe the partners and resources that are essential in an entrepreneur’s journey—mentors, education and connections that help founders succeed. Harvard Kennedy School refers to social capital as “the collective value of all ‘social networks’ (who people know) and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other (‘norms of reciprocity’).” Basically, social capital ensures that you are connected to the right people who will provide you with trusted information, collaboration and partnerships. Social capital is particularly important when an entrepreneur is just starting out and needs advisors who have been there before and connections to funders who are willing to work with them to build a business.

At the Case Foundation, we believe that the next era of entrepreneurship is about leveling the playing field, expanding participation and scaling the networks of social, financial and inspiration capital that provide the foundation for successful startups and scalable business. We partner with social capital networks providing important connections, training and mentorships for entrepreneurs, as well as the investors and influencers working to change the way capital flows to diverse entrepreneurs. Incubators for those just starting out, accelerators for those looking to grow and the ecosystem builders generally paving the way for entrepreneurs to succeed.

All entrepreneurs have similar needs—mentorship, funding, role models—but not all entrepreneurs have equal access to those resources. We see disproportionate funding going to white male entrepreneurs and underrepresentation of women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color in most major incubator and accelerator programs. When only a portion of the entrepreneurship community has access to the stepping stones needed to grow their business, it’s no wonder most of the breakout companies we laud in our society are founded by white men. To combat this trend, we have committed to catalyzing the inclusive entrepreneurship movement and launched #FacesofFounders to shed more light on the diverse entrepreneurs scaling businesses and important conversations around inclusive entrepreneurship we must have to change how our culture views entrepreneurship.

Fortunately, more and more entrepreneurship programs are being set up with intentionality around creating on-ramps for women entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs of color. Whether it’s a network for women only or an existing accelerator that has benchmarks for inclusion among its cohort, entrepreneurship supporters are getting serious about providing the resources diverse founders need to be successful.

To learn more about these inclusion-focused accelerators, incubators and ecosystem builders, we’ve put together a list to get you started. These organizations are committed to the inclusive entrepreneurship movement, taking action within their organizations to support diverse entrepreneurs and leaders in the field demonstrating the value of providing underrepresented groups of entrepreneurs with access to capital, networks and support. We are proud to be working to advance inclusive entrepreneurship alongside these organizations and the many more out there committed to this work!

Follow all of the organizations below with one click—subscribe to our Twitter list!

Organization Name
Twitter Handle
Twitter Bio
500 Startups
@500Startups
500 Startups is a seed fund & a network of startup programs. Founded by PayPal & Google alums. Born in Silicon Valley, the #500STRONG family is worldwide.
American Underground
@AmerUnderground
The ‘Startup Capital of the South’ and one of ten Google for Entrepreneur Tech Hubs. We are home to more than 275 startups in downtown Durham & Raleigh.
Black Founders
@blackfounders
Dedicated to increasing the number of successful black entrepreneurs in tech.
Black Tech Week
@blacktechweek
Black Tech Week is a week long series of events in Miami, Florida celebrating innovators of color. contact@blacktechweek.com
Blackstone Launchpad
@bxlaunchpad
Blackstone LaunchPad is a campus entrepreneurship program offering coaching, ideation and venture creation support. http://t.co/eBdvnPhkvo
Blueprint + Co
@blueprintandco
The workplace that works for you.
Change Catalyst
@changecatalysts
Empowering diverse leaders to #changetheworld. #socent #BCorp #impinv #startups #techinclusion16 https://t.co/8qMdI23qfd by @mbrianaepler @waynesutton & team
Circular Board
@CircularB
A collaborative startup accelerator serving a thriving community of globally minded women entrepreneurs.
CODE2040
@CODE2040
Top black and latinx tech talent. Founders @tristanwalker + @laurawp. Follow the CODE2040 family: https://t.co/BS9giAiF33
Defy Ventures
@DefyVentures
We are an entrepreneurship, employment, and leadership training program that serves people with criminal histories.
digitalundivided
@digundiv
digitalundivided (DID) fosters economic growth through the empowerment of women of color entrepreneurs.
DivInc
@DivIncatx
We are a 12-week pre-accelerator program focused on championing diversity in the tech startup ecosystem.
Duke I&E
@EshipatDuke
Latest happenings from the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative.
Google for Entrepreneurs
@GoogleForEntrep
News and updates from Google for Entrepreneurs.
Groundwork
@groundworklabs
A community that provides mentorship, peer-support, and a discovery experience for select startups and entrepreneurs
Halcyon Incubator
@HalcyonIncubate
Supports early stage social entrepreneurs through an immersive 18-month fellowship program
HBCU Innovation
@HBCUInnovation
in3
@In3DC
Inclusive Innovation Incubator (In3) – D.C’s first co-working, training, & incubator space intentional about diversity & inclusion. #FindYourIn by @luma_lab 💡
Jumpstart Inc
@jumpstartinc
We are a nationally recognized nonprofit that unlocks the full potential of diverse & ambitious entrepreneurs to economically transform entire communities.
Kauffman Foundation
@KauffmanFDN
Fostering economic independence by advancing education & entrepreneurship. RTs ≠ endorsements. House Rules https://t.co/963BVtcqVu
Kapor Center
@KaporCenter
The Kapor Center is relentlessly pursuing creative strategies to leverage tech for positive, progressive change.
Latino Startup Alliance
@Latino_Startups
To encourage the inspiration & cultivation of Latino led tech startup ventures by providing a support network of fellow innovators, mentors & investors.
Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center
@thecenter
The #startup for startups! Designed to #educate, #innovate, and connect #entrepreneurs – all free of charge. Grow your ideas. Get inspired. Tell your story!
New Profit
@newprofit
Break through with New Profit. https://t.co/mRBW5FClRb
The Pink Ceiling
@thepinkceiling
Propelling Breakthroughs for Women | Strategy + Investing | Mentorship Through the #Pinkubator | All Woman Team | Founder Cindy Whitehead @cindypinkceo
PowerMoves
@PowerMovesUSA
PowerMoves is about creating power through opportunity – the opportunity of high growth minority Traditional & Tech Entrepreneurship.
Project Entrepreneur
@pjtentrepreneur
Project Entrepreneur ignites bold ideas by providing women access to the tools, training and networks needed to build scalable, economically impactful companies
SEED SPOT
@seedspot
#SocEnt incubator w/ locations in Washington, D.C. & Phoenix, AZ. Educating, accelerating & investing in entrepreneurs creating solutions to social problems.
Sephora Accelerate
@SephoraStands
Through Sephora Stands, we will use our strengths to promote even greater good by supporting female entrepreneurs in beauty, our communities, and our people.
Social Innovation Lab
@SIL_Baltimore
Social Innovation Lab at @JohnsHopkins – Accelerating ventures that create change and opportunity in Baltimore and beyond. Director: @DariusG
Tory Birch Foundation
@ToryBurchFdn
The official Tory Burch Foundation tweets.
Unshackled Ventures
@UnshackledUS
An early stage venture fund for immigrant founders to create economic value in the U.S.
Village Capital
@villagecapital
We democratize entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs themselves build and invest in world-changing companies. A new type of VC.
Women’s Startup Lab
@wslab
Leading Women’s Startup Accelerator in Silicon Valley. Be Exceptional. Be Extraordinary. Be the Impact.

For more data on accelerators and the entrepreneurs they serve, check out the Global Accelerator Learning Initiative led by the Aspen Institute and Emory University at https://www.galidata.org/.

Have other tips for choosing an entrepreneurship program? A program or ecosystem builder you’ve seen that’s committed to inclusive entrepreneurship? We know there are many more out there! Share them with us at FacesofFounders.org or on Twitter with hashtag #FacesofFounders.

A Message From SXSW: The Undiscovered Next Big Thing

For many years, SXSW has been the place to go to see the new thing, the new product, the new trend. Market leading products like Twitter took off when they launched at the annual Austin conference and hit shows like Game of Thrones and stars like Jay Z have flocked to Austin to join in the fun and be associated with the newest trends.

Each year as I head to SXSW, I can’t help but wonder what the “next big thing” might be that will have the conference abuzz. This year, it wasn’t a product and it wasn’t a personality. Instead, it was a powerful idea: double down on the secret sauce that has made America great by expanding the pool of entrepreneurs who are building great companies and bringing new innovations. And while the idea itself may seem simple, the potential for transformative impact is extraordinary. And for any investor, this idea represents a potential new source of innovation, talent and access to untapped markets.

This was my message and the message of the Case Foundation as we went to SXSW, but we didn’t expect to find similar sentiments echoing from the SXSW stage throughout the conference, in hallway conversations and at cocktail parties. And it was the central message in my fireside chat with Reena Ninan of CBS News. Like any “hot” issue, there is usually some arresting set of facts that serves to ignite passions. In this case, the data is so stark that it provides a great entrée for the topic more broadly. Consider this data on the state of venture capital investing in the United States:

At the same time, women owned firms are growing 5 times faster than the national average. And a growing body of data reports that both women-run firms and firms with diverse teams, outperform their counterparts. First Round Capital, for instance, reported when it separated out performance in its portfolio of companies, it found that female-led firms outperformed their counterparts by 60%. Traditional investing is starting to realize that perhaps diversifying leadership is a business imperative to boost performance, with the point driven home most clearly from State Street Global Advisors, with trillions of dollars of assets under management, State Street placed a bronze statue of a young girl staring down Wall Street’s bull, and matched it with a message that they will use their proxy power if needed to ensure those firms in their portfolio diversify leadership. Sure, investing in more women and people of color is a social justice issue, but it is also a powerful economic opportunity for investors and for our nation.

This was the topic of a Ted Talk I gave a few months ago and it was great to see the SXSW attendees engage so eagerly on this subject—from world-class investors looking for paths to these untapped segments, to reporters hearing from more diverse voices and perspectives on the panels they led, to entrepreneurs from these segments asking how they can find the funders who get this and are willing to listen to good ideas, no matter the gender, color of skin or geography.

And I was not alone at SXSW in talking about these issues.

  • Beth Comstock, Vice Chair of GE, spoke eloquently about the efforts GE was taking to look for great ideas in more diverse places and how they were building more flexible workplace rules so all could succeed at GE.
  • Aspect Ventures founding partner Theresia Gouw, BBG Ventures President and managing partner Susan Lyne, and Joyus founder/CEO and angel investor Sukhinder Singh Cassidy joined Fortune senior editor Kristen Bellstrom on a panel on Monday to talk about the lack of diversity in VC funding for women and share suggestions about steps to take to change the status quo.
  • Dan Lyons, a tech journalist, former Silicon Valley screenwriter and author of the New York Times best-seller, “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Startup Bubble” spoke in his SXSW panel about how “bro culture” and bias were holding back the industry and how we had to change the way they thought about hiring and promoting to ensure our most actively funded companies did not become too insular.
  • And Case Foundation chairman (and my husband), Steve Case, talked about the “Rise of the Rest” initiative that he runs separately from the Foundation, spotlighting and funding entrepreneurs across America, from places between the coasts that investors often ignore, but where the vast majority of our Fortune 500 companies in America were started.

And the programing and general conversation around SXSW supported this yearning for more leadership and support for a wider community of innovators. At the National Geographic venue on 6th street, National Geographic Explorers who came from non-traditional backgrounds were greeted by thousands of SXSW attendees. These included Albert Yu-Min Lin, who spoke about maintaining his passion for exploration after losing a limb, and how those in the field have the responsibility to tell the stories and make a difference. David Lang, who is designing and building underwater robots that are being used by citizens to explore oceans, rivers and lakes in ways that have never been accessible to non-academic and government officials; and Erika Bergman, who leads Google Hangouts as she pilots her submarine so all can get the chance to see the discoveries she is making thousands of feet underwater. All of these Explorers leveraged their unique backgrounds and passions to explore in ways that were outside the norm, bringing new perspectives to their work and opening doors to citizen science that had previously been closed.

Finally, this call for a wider pool of innovators was echoed by Vice President Biden as he made an impassioned plea at SXSW to support cancer research. He called on SXSW attendees to use their diverse skills and backgrounds to participate in cancer research, trials and to lend their minds and access to improve detection, prevention and treatment of cancer. In calling on more innovative thinking and engaging more diverse participants, Vice President Biden said “If we did nothing more than break down the silos preventing greater collaboration because of the way the system has been built up—not intentionally—over the last 50 years, we can extend the life of a lot of people with cancer.”

While SXSW is often known for opening our eyes to new products, this year’s SXSW was a venue where the message was clear: the next undiscovered big thing is people and the innovations that those not traditionally in the mainstream can bring to the table. Frankly, it was a breath of fresh air and we, at the Case Foundation, stand ready to keep the momentum started at SXSW going so we can see real change in the faces and ideas of the innovators who power the next generation of ideas.

Working Toward “Zero Barriers” for Entrepreneurs

“After a long Great Recession hangover, entrepreneurship is finally rebounding in the United States. Entrepreneurs are driving a resurgence of business activity in America.” – Kauffman Foundation “Zero Barriers” Report

The Kauffman Foundation recently released their “State of Entrepreneurship 2017” Report noting a resurgence of entrepreneurship in the United States after a long-term decline. The report sets out several areas of growth key to ensuring entrepreneurship continues as an economic driver for all, first of which is a focus on women and people of color. The Case Foundation’s “inclusive entrepreneurship” movement focuses directly on democratizing entrepreneurship, through collaborations and learning opportunities with ecosystems and founders committed to reducing barriers to entrepreneurship faced by diverse entrepreneurs, and scale local pilots into national programs serving women and entrepreneurs of color. As we are on the same path, we are proud to have a partner like the Kauffman Foundation alongside us in the movement for inclusive entrepreneurship. At the core of our movement building philosophy is partnerships. We look to combine our strengths with those of our partners in the field to accelerate and catalyze progress toward a common goal. In the entrepreneurship arena, the Kauffman Foundation has long been one of those partners. From our early partnership in Startup America Partnership to today’s on bringing intentionality to leveling the playing field for all entrepreneurs through their Zero Barriers initiative.

Created with Ewing Marion Kauffman’s own entrepreneurial values at their core, the Kauffman Foundation has been a champion in fostering entrepreneurial communities and expanding entrepreneurship education programs in startups across the country. At the 8th Annual State of Entrepreneurship Address in DC on February 16, Kauffman President and CEO Wendy Guillies discussed how entrepreneurship has evolved, outlining current trends, barriers and opportunities for growth. The annual address was structured around the release of a new Kauffman Foundation report, highlighting three mega trends that are redefining the future of entrepreneurship in the U.S. However, the event and the structure of this report are not merely an assessment of the entrepreneurship field right now; rather, the Kauffman Foundation used this report to launch a new focus and dedication to their entrepreneurship work. The three mega trends from the report reflect changes in demographics, geographies, and approaches in entrepreneurship that Kauffman articulates as vital to address in their work and the work of others in this space. Identifying the gaps within each mega trend, the report serves as a strategic roadmap for engagement and a call to action and paves the way for the new “Zero Barriers to Startup” Initiative—a collaborative, nationwide effort to remove traditional barriers to entry for startups and empower entrepreneurs to pursue innovative ideas.

Mega Trend 1: New Demographics of Entrepreneurship

The entrepreneurial ecosystem is expanding and evolving, yet opportunity and empowerment divides across key demographics—particularly women and communities of color—have prevented entrepreneurship from being truly inclusive. While more than half of the U.S. population will be from communities of color by 2050, this trend is not accurately reflected in today’s composition of entrepreneurs. Historically marginalized and underrepresented communities often face higher barriers to entry, including lack of access to and cost of capital, which have implications on business profitability and opportunities to achieve scale. The report brings valuable data to this space, indicating that the average size of mature, non-minority-owned businesses is valued at $2.3 million in annual revenue, while those of similar size and growth stage owned by minorities are only valued at $1.6 million. Additionally, the entrepreneurship diversity gap comes at significant economic costs—if minority-owned businesses grew at the same rate as those of non-minorities, the U.S. would have more than one million additional employer businesses and as much as 9.5 million new jobs. Through initiatives like “Zero Barriers” and ongoing grants to women and minority entrepreneurs, the Kauffman Foundation joins the Case Foundation and the inclusive entrepreneurship movement to level the playing field and promote innovation across demographics.

Mega Trend 2: New Map of Entrepreneurship

Beyond the traditional hubs of the Silicon Valley and Boston, emerging startup ecosystems are forming across the country, particularly in mid-size metro areas. As we have seen through the Forward Cities collaborative in Cleveland, Detroit, Durham and New Orleans, innovations in technology and innovative financing models have unlocked new sources of capital and created pathways for entrepreneurs to scale their businesses. However, the entrepreneurial landscape is still a geographic patchwork—pockets of growth are largely concentrated in urban areas, while rural communities have experienced a drop in startup activity from 20 percent in the 1980s, to 12.2 percent today. To mend the urban-rural divide and promote geographic diversity, Kauffman Foundation’s “New Map” initiatives will focus on empowering entrepreneurs at the local-level and addressing the barriers to entrepreneurial growth among rural communities. We look forward to sharing the lessons we have learned through Forward Cities and the joint lessons of Startup America Partnership to ensure that entrepreneurs from across America have the opportunity to contribute toward America’s progress.

Mega Trend 3: New Nature of Entrepreneurship

The third mega trend informing the current state of entrepreneurship is tied to the evolving nature of the industry itself, and the unique role that technology has played in redefining the field. Leveraging technology in business development has spurred entrepreneurial innovation, created new markets in traditional industries and aligned financial and social incentives in new ways. While technological advancements make entrepreneurship more widely accessible, it has also had the dual effect of slowing net job creation across sectors. Kauffman shared an interesting snapshot comparison to bring this point home:

Technological disruption and increased automation has reduced demand for human capital, which could accelerate the growth of startups and early stage companies. At the same time, technology is only as powerful as those who invest in, adapt and successfully integrate it into their business practices. Moving in lockstep with advancements in technology, Kauffman is launching new educational models for entrepreneurship and identifying new opportunities for job creation.

While often reports can raise as many questions as they do solutions, the Kauffman Foundation’s Zero Barriers response will provide valuable resources and support for entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders across the country. The mega trends that the Kauffman Foundation identifies, particularly the new demographics and new map, are ones that the Case Foundation is specifically targeting through our inclusive entrepreneurship movement. The Case Foundation is honored to have the Kauffman Foundation as a partner in the movement to create a more inclusive approach to entrepreneurship.

Time to Tap All of America’s Entrepreneurship Potential

Entrepreneurs have been at the center of our American story for centuries. Indeed, entrepreneurs have powered our economy, fueled job growth and introduced innovations that have contributed to the quality of life we enjoy today. In fact, you could say that the American Experience is built on the backs of entrepreneurs who took risks because they believed that in America, anyone from anywhere could bring the next big idea to life.

While as a nation we celebrate our startup and innovation culture, any telling of this American story would not be complete without noting that a fundamental shift has taken place in recent decades in the funding of entrepreneurs and the new companies they build: venture capital. Venture capital is known for its role in funding select firms that have high growth potential. Indeed, many of the most celebrated American brands and businesses were fueled by an infusion of early venture capital into the companies, including Google, Airbnb, Whole Foods, Starbucks and Tesla. And the role of venture capital goes far beyond funding – it often brings with it strategic guidance for young entrepreneurs, access to an elite network of other successful business leaders and often serves as a magnet for follow-on funding by others. The economic impact of venture capital cannot be overstated. A 2015 study by Stanford School of Business on the subject had this to say: “Venture capital has profoundly changed the U.S. economy. It has become a dominant force in the financing of innovative American companies.”

Think of venture capital as the “secret sauce” of investments and resources that often make the difference as to whether a young entrepreneur breaks out with great success, or withers on the vine. But a growing body of data highlights a sobering fact: we aren’t tapping the full potential for innovation and ingenuity in this great nation because venture capital has favored a limited few – most of them men; most of them white. Indeed, research into where the venture capital is going reveals that only 10% of venture-backed companies had a female founder; only 1% had an African American founder. And 78% of all venture capital went to just 3 states: California, New York and Massachusetts, leaving the other 47 states to share just a quarter of the pie. Imagine the potential economic upside if more segments of society could compete for venture capital for their firms.

And the data shows the sectors being overlooked by venture capital are strong, vibrant and perform well.

Consider the data:

When it comes to performance in business, data suggests these groups can outperform the norms. For instance, Fortune reported that women-led companies perform three times better than the S&P 500. First Round Capital looked at their portfolio of investments and found that companies with a female founder performed 60% better than those with all-male founded teams. A McKinsey study reported that racially diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35%. And those other 47 states? They are the home of three-quarters of all Fortune 500 companies. There is a deep and rich history of innovation and business success between the coasts in America.

At the Case Foundation, we believe that this data, while arresting, represents a powerful economic opportunity to seize, simply by taking steps to be intentional in reaching out to find and fund new, high growth and innovative startups from broader segments of society. By building onramps to funding, networking and mentoring for all sectors of society, we can expand economic opportunities more broadly and tap markets that have been underserved. We know that investors and, frankly most of us, connect to people with similar experiences. As 93 percent of investing partners at the top 100 venture firms are men, they will need to consciously step outside their comfort zones. But the data and the opportunity outlined here speaks directly to why many joined the venture capital field in the first place. We think funding entrepreneurs who see things a little differently and who develop innovations that tap new markets is at the center of the venture capital world and those who open doors to a more diverse pool of innovators will be pleased with what they find.

And we are not alone in our excitement for the opportunities that will come from infusing new energy and new perspectives into the country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Our partners in this work, the Kauffman Foundation, have championed initiatives to expand entrepreneurial growth and just this month launched a campaign to lower barriers to entry for new businesses and to “develop solutions and empower more entrepreneurs to pursue their ambitions.”

As part of this movement, we have launched the Medium publication #FacesofFounders, designed to elevate a discussion of entrepreneurship, race, place and gender. We welcome you to engage with this conversation, share your story and hear from founders of all backgrounds, at all stages in their startup journey, to highlight how entrepreneurs with groundbreaking ideas come from all backgrounds and are poised to play a key role in America’s innovation economy.

To start the conversation about identifying the next generation of innovators, #FaceofFounders on Medium will be focusing on three opportunities for you to take action to support entrepreneurs nationwide.

Opportunity 1: Champion All Entrepreneurs

There are diverse entrepreneurs out there already starting, growing and successfully exiting their ventures, across sectors of society and across the nation. We will showcase the incredible pipeline of entrepreneurs already calling themselves “Founders” and embracing the entrepreneurial spirit. And we urge you to join us in celebrating this universe of inclusive entrepreneurs.

Opportunity 2: Challenge Unconscious Bias

We also must open the door to more people by acknowledging that unconscious bias is real. By acknowledging that unconscious bias is real, we can begin to create systems that source entrepreneurs beyond existing bubbles and influence the standard criteria used by investors as they assess potential investments.

Opportunity 3: Extend Privilege—Get in the Arena

Investors, ecosystem builders, mentors, advocates, connectors, board members. No matter who you are, there’s a role you can play to extend opportunities to all entrepreneurs. #GetInTheArena and help champion the possibility of entrepreneurship for all.

The Path Forward

To educate and inspire you to take action, we will feature stories of diverse entrepreneurs who are dreaming, building and scaling successful businesses. These founders come from all backgrounds—women, men, Latinx, African Americans, B Corps, students, immigrants, moms, engineers, artists—but have a common vision that their idea holds great promise. Each week, we will profile an innovator that you may or may not have heard of, but whose story will hopefully inspire you or someone you know to say “I can do it. I can be an entrepreneur.” If we seize this opportunity to democratize entrepreneurship, we will not only support new innovators, we will strengthen innovation and redouble our commitment that anyone from anywhere has a fair shot at the American Dream.

Join the conversation on entrepreneurship, race, place and gender at FacesofFounders.org.

#FacesofFounders Featured Stories—Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Today we released the fifth and final featured story from our #FacesofFounders campaign. Launched in October and culminating today with the final story, #FacesofFounders seeks out and lifts up America’s dynamic, diverse entrepreneurs who are key to driving innovation and job growth. These five entrepreneurs stood out for their groundbreaking work, inspiring journeys and ability to shatter stereotypes through their commitment to inclusive entrepreneurship.

As we celebrate these five founders, we are reminded that they are just the tip of iceberg. The #FacesofFounders campaign received nearly 750 compelling and inspiring stories of entrepreneurship occurring all over the country, led by founders from all backgrounds. And we know that this is only a small subset of startup activity happening in communities from Maine to Arizona, Washington to Mississippi. These five entrepreneurs are ambassadors of the enormous stock of talent that exists that does not receive the exposure, mentorship or capital that they deserve. This campaign is designed to lift up five entrepreneurs, but to also shine a light on all diverse entrepreneurs and debunk the myth that diverse entrepreneurs are few and far between, or too hard to find.

Those featured in Fast Company include four pairs of co-founders and one solo founder, three men and six women and come from four different states and the District of Columbia. They work in a variety of sectors that are addressing innovation and social change around the world.

Meet our #FacesofFounders winners:

  • Stephanie Lampkin is a true champion of inclusive entrepreneurship who turned a denied opportunity into disruptive innovation with her Blendoor application. We were inspired by Stephanie’s holistic approach to addressing diversity and the way she uses her tech expertise to tackle hiring bias.
    See Stephanie’s complete story here.
  • Jean Sim and Irena Todd are creating solutions in the world of affordable children’s haircare products. Both working moms and immigrants with extensive corporate-sector experience, they created Fresh Monster to provide a low-cost way to safely wash kids’ hair.
    See Jean and Irena’s complete story here.
  • Anjali Kataria and her husband Vinay Bhargava co-founded Mytonomy, a health tech company that educates and informs patients through technology, ensuring they arrive at appointments prepared and fully educated on their medical needs. Anjali background working at iconic tech companies allowed her to use her previous experience and successes to advance the healthcare industry.
    See Anjali complete story here.
  • Kristen Sonday channeled her life experience into a drive to create a business with a mission. Kristen, along with co-founder Felicity Conrad, launched Paladin to tackle a problem lawyers across the country face. Her legal pro-bono matchmaking service ensures that attorneys are matched with the right organizations in need of legal assistance.
    See Kristen and Felicity’s complete story here.
  • George Ashton and Yuri Horwitz seized upon an opportunity in the rapidly changing solar energy market to build Sol Systems, a mission-driven company working towards cleaner energy through investments. They focus on innovation in the larger energy world as well as within their own company.
    See Yuri and George’s complete story here.

We are proud to have partnered with the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Google for Entrepreneurs, UBS and Fast Company on the campaign. Thank you to all the entrepreneurs who shared their stories and supporters of inclusive entrepreneurship who joined the movement.

The #FacesofFounders series on Fast Company is an example of the long-term commitment that the Case Foundation has to ensuring all entrepreneurs have access to the resources they need to build and scale a company. We will continue to support and celebrate entrepreneurs from all races, places and genders as we catalyze the movement for a more inclusive approach to entrepreneurship. To learn more about our work to support all entrepreneurs, to continue the discussion on entrepreneurship, race, place and gender and to meet more entrepreneurs who are breaking down barriers, visit FacesofFounders.org.

Getting In the Arena: The Entrepreneurial Spirit

As we announced in January, the Case Foundation is committing its 20th Anniversary year to calling on all to “Get In The Arena.” And, while most of our efforts focus on how each and every one of us can take action on the issues and challenges that matter the most to us in 2017, we also are highlighting lessons we have learned from Getting in the Arena over the past two decades.  Our hope is future endeavors of others are informed by the sharing of past learnings.

It should come as no surprise that among the most important lessons we’ve learned is the power of the entrepreneurial spirit in driving innovation and impact across the social sector.

Of course, the entrepreneurial spirit has been central to the American Experience since our earliest days as a young nation. In his book Empire on the Edge, Nick Bunker writes the following on the founding of America: “It was always eccentric, the British Empire on the mainland of America. From the time of Jamestown and the Mayflower, almost every colony came into being by means of private enterprise. They were small, experimental ventures in search of profit, in search of God. Each one was a painful exercise in trial and error, with seldom a firm guiding hand from London.”  In other words, America was born of the entrepreneurial spirit.  And it is a common belief even today, that this has been the secret sauce that has powered our economy, built innovations to improve lives and forged new political and cultural systems and frameworks that have enabled the American people to thrive in what has become the longest-established democracy in the history of the world.

Too often, the entrepreneurial spirit is perceived to be of relevance exclusively in the business sector.  And yet, as my own career has taken me from the public sector, to a career in technology in the private sector, to my current roles in the philanthropic/nonprofit sector as CEO of the Case Foundation and Chairman of the National Geographic Society, I have come to recognize the critical importance of entrepreneurial approaches across all sectors.  Indeed, given that these sectors outside of business are usually focused on the human condition or more broadly on the needs of our planet, the challenges they face can be daunting. Perhaps there is no greater need for fresh approaches, risk taking and an eye toward innovation than in those sectors.

And, over the past 20 years, we have seen the entrepreneurial spirit thrive in non-traditional settings — across sectors, across our nation and around the globe. For example:

Launching Challenge.gov: Working with the White House as our partner, we co-hosted the White House Summit on Innovation that brought together 35 U.S. government agencies using contests and grand challenges to tap “the wisdom of the crowds” across the nation in finding solutions to major challenges faced by government agencies. We partnered with experts in prizes and challenges, such as the X-Prize, and used the Summit as training ground to encourage agencies to put forth challenges to drive innovation.  Some of our favorite outcomes of this work include:

An enduring outcome of this work is Challenge.gov, a site that anyone can access to find out what contests and challenges are active.  Since its launch in 2010, 740 challenges have been run on Challenge.gov, eliciting entries from 250,000+ citizens from all 50 states and a number of foreign countries. By challenging the status quo, leveraging the creativity and innovation of new audiences and tapping the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, the U.S. government’s work was improved at a much lower than expected cost and more citizens than ever have been engaged.

Connecting frontier communities in Africa: Internet connectivity remains a major challenge throughout Africa. Yet companies like Facebook, Google and startups like BRCK* have developed non-traditional solutions to connect schools and villages that are on the edge, and past, the traditional internet and electric infrastructure. Overcoming the traditional mindset that pipes must be built and that wires must be strung to deliver access, and working around many of the government procurement barriers that have stunted growth in the past, BRCK has developed a connectivity device that can jump from Ethernet, to WiFi, to 3G seamlessly with an 8-hour battery life when the power is out.  This is why, a recent article in Forbes referred to BRCK’s innovation as a “clever confluence of technology and entrepreneurial spirit.” To overcome the connectivity problems, Facebook announced plans to lay over 500 miles of fiber cable in Uganda this year and has even experimented with drones to provide internet access to remote locations. And Google is stringing over 1,000 kilometers of fiber cable in two of Ghana’s largest cities to serve the growing number of internet provider companies in these cities. Thanks to private sector actors like Facebook, BRCK and Google, internet access can be found in hospitals, community centers, libraries, barbershops, even on buses, where it was never available before. These entrepreneurs have solved a long-standing problem by embracing the entrepreneurial spirit.

Democratizing access to information: In the past, access to complex data was often restricted to those in government or at major research universities. These restrictions were not based on national security needs, but by historical tendencies and entrenched interests. Today, across many platforms, we are seeing visionaries, using open source and crowd sourcing models to leverage wider communities to advance science, innovation and exploration.  For example, Sarah Parcak, an associate professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has broken down the wall between academia and citizens, by sharing infra-red satellite imaging from commercial and NASA satellites with citizens so they can help identify potential archeological sites for further exploration. Her work in places like Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula has been groundbreaking, but her commitment to locating and protecting hundreds of thousands — even millions — of still undiscovered ancient sites that remain buried all over the world pushes the impact of her work to the next level.

Sarah’s launch of GlobalXplorer.org on January 30 embodies the entrepreneurial spirit in non-traditional areas that is so inspiring to us. This unique platform enlists a global community and enables anyone with an internet connection to discover the next hidden burial site or community using satellite technology. The platform uses satellite imagery provided by DigitalGlobe, and highlights content from National Geographic and taps the public’s time, brainpower and inquisitive nature, to map Peru in search of archeological sites hidden due to modern human activity.

And Sarah is not the only explorer and innovator working this way. We see numerous examples in the open source world where entrepreneurs and innovators are creating new and innovative platforms that are improved and updated by the wider community.

This isn’t a new idea. Every major advancement or breakthrough across society came from someone trying something that seemed a little crazy.  Long before President Kennedy ushered in an era of entrepreneurial efforts to get us first to the moon and then beyond, major leaps benefiting mankind had been the result of someone, somewhere making a commitment to #GetInTheArena with new ideas for solving old, daunting problems.  In fact, the Challenge.gov website proudly notes that similar challenges aided Charles Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic flight and the design for the U.S. Capitol building. Risk taking, a sense of urgency, a willingness to fail and a dogged perseverance are part of the formula that has defined the entrepreneurial spirit and brought us breakthroughs.  From where we sit, we are encouraged by the growing recognition and application of these tenets across the social sector, and around the world, and believe it bodes well for the future of innovation.

 

*Disclosure: Jean and Steve Case are investors in BRCK.

Celebrating Black History Month by Celebrating the Power (and Privilege) of Storytelling

He (and I use that pronoun intentionally) who tells the story owns the narrative. And the fact is, history has largely been written by men, for men. White men. It’s a truth we, at the Case Foundation, confronted directly and are trying to change through our #FacesofFounders campaign, as it pertains to entrepreneurs. The power of storytelling to document history, make lasting impressions and, in fact, set our default images is profound. And therefore, we need to disrupt the status quo of who tells the stories, about whom the stories are told, the images we assign to entire categories of people and, in doing so, directly confront our biases and work hard—with intention—to change them.

As we researched and designed our inclusive entrepreneurship movement, seeking to democratize entrepreneurship to people and places being left behind or out of business startup opportunities in America, we landed on three important roadblocks: access to social capital (mentorships, networks, accelerators); access to financial capital; and access to something we called “inspirational capital”—their inclusion in media stories, popular images of entrepreneurs or stories of entrepreneurship. Our #FacesofFounders campaign was a direct response to aggressively bust the myth that there weren’t already successful entrepreneurs of color and women entrepreneurs, as well as to inspire the next generation of talent required to drive America forward.

Key to driving that campaign forward was to confront the biases that exist in America, to understand that storytelling and images have played a huge role in reinforcing those biases and to use the power of storytelling, and a set of modernized images, to change that dynamic. We put that power to work in our CEO Jean Case’s TED talk last fall.

As we close out February and our celebration of Black History Month, and in celebration of what I hope is a revolution to level the playing field for all individuals—regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation or birthplace—to participate equally in our society and economy, I’d like to share three other TED Talks that continue to inspire me to #GetinTheArena and both deploy the power of storytelling and extend the privilege of the storyteller.

The Danger of a Single Story

This stunning talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie walks us through a long history of literature, news stories and images that have built a singular story around events and people, particularly people of color. She reminds us that the problem is that, beginning as children, these are the stories and images that set our default positions. Worse, they rob people of dignity, reduce opportunities for equality and accentuate our differences more than our similarities. Her parting words? Stories matter; let’s use them to empower, humanize and repair broken dignity.

How to Overcome Our Biases

Vernā  Myers delivers a hard-hitting punch: get out of denial, “color blindness” is a false ideal…a distraction from doing the real work required to reboot our biases. She walks us through the world of brain auto-association with research showing that people—all people—associated white images more often with positive and black images more often with negative. Seventy percent of white people preferred images of white people; 50 percent of black people did too. Whoa! Beyond just the sheer power of her talk, she deploys a tactic that is intentionally intended to change that auto-association—throughout her entire talk, images of beautiful, bold, everyday black men are displayed behind her. Myers challenges us to do three things: (1) accept that bias exists—it’s not that it exists, it’s what we do with it; (2) move toward young black men, not away from them; move toward your discomfort and expand your bubble—just try!; and (3) when you see something, say something—good people can say wrong things, and if not confronted, biases will continue and be passed onto future generations. A must-watch!

Color Blind or Color Brave

Mellody Hobson tells us in this captivating talk that embracing and deploying diversity—of race, gender, intellect, experience—is the smart thing to do, not just the right thing to do. Like Myers, Hobson encourages us to deal with color head on…to deal with its discomfort and relax into it…to be “color brave” if we believe in equal opportunity. Her three calls to action are things most of us can do today: (1) be intentional in hiring decisions—every opportunity you get; (2) observe your environment with intention, and invite people into your life that don’t look like you, live like you, think like you—they will challenge your assumptions and beliefs; and (3) be brave.

Let’s not forget that Black History Month itself was created to rewrite a history that seemed to exclude black people’s role in advancing American innovation, entrepreneurship, society and economy. Each of us, in our own way—big or small—can be part of a movement to drive a more inclusive nation. Be fearless. It’s worth it.

Announcing the Five #FacesofFounders Featured Stories

The Case Foundation is proud to announce the results of our first-ever #FacesofFounders campaign. The effort, a centerpiece of the Foundation’s inclusive entrepreneur movement, invited entrepreneurs—particularly women founders and entrepreneurs of color—to share their photos and stories of entrepreneurship on FacesofFounders.org or on Twitter using #FacesofFounders. Launched at the White House’s South by South Lawn festival, in partnership with Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Google for Entrepreneurs and UBS, along with Fast Company, #FacesofFounders seeks out and lifts up America’s dynamic entrepreneurs who are key to driving innovation and job growth. The winners of the crowdsourced contest, who were reviewed by our panel of forty guest judges, were selected because they are bridging innovation and commitment to inclusiveness.  

Meet the winners!

  • Stephanie Lampkin, founder and CEO of the Blendoor application, has leveraged her tech expertise to tackle hiring bias.
  • Jean Sim and Irena Todd are working moms and immigrants who have built Fresh Monster to address a gap in affordable children’s haircare products.
  • Anjali Kataria co-founded Mytonomy, a health tech company that educates and informs patients through technology, ensuring they arrive at appointments prepared and fully educated on their medical needs.
  • George Ashton and Yuri Horwitz seized upon an opportunity in the rapidly changing solar energy market to build Sol Systems, a mission-driven company working towards cleaner energy through investments.
  • Kristen Sonday, along with co-founder Felicity Conrad, launched Paladin to create a legal pro-bono matchmaking service to ensure that attorneys are matched with the right organizations in need of legal assistance.

Each of the winners will be featured this week on FastCompany.com. Today, the story of how Jean Sim and Irena Todd built Fresh Monster was released, but check back each day to read the next story of barrier-breaking innovators from around the country.

We celebrate the five winners in their own right, but also for the light they shine on the tremendous talent and excitement that the #FacesofFounders campaign surfaced. Nearly 4,000 people uploaded a photo and selected a filter showing what entrepreneurship means to them. Nearly 750 founders took the time to thoughtfully and passionately tell us the story of their entrepreneurship journey—with entries from 42 states, 63 percent of whom were women entrepreneurs and 63 percent of whom were entrepreneurs of color. And these stories came from entrepreneurs building businesses across a multitude of sectors—from retail, technology, arts, health and finance industries, among others.

Thank you to everyone who has joined the movement for a more inclusive approach to entrepreneurship! Founders like Kristen, Felicity, George, Yuri, Anjali, Jean, Irena and Stephanie are proof points that innovative, successful businesses are built across the nation, by entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. Together, we are changing the narrative of who is and can be an entrepreneur.