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.

Making The Most of Your Time At SXSW: 20 Can’t Miss SXSW Sessions

The Case Foundation is heading to SXSW this month for five days of Interactive programming and events. While there, we will certainly dine on breakfast tacos and good ole’ Texas barbecue, but most importantly we will participate in and host a series of engaging can’t miss SXSW sessions and activations onsite designed to turn interest in to action.

In particular, the Case Foundation is excited to interact with SXSW participants at one of our sessions featuring our own Jean Case, Steve Case, Emily Yu, Sarah Koch as well as to debut our first-ever #GetInTheArena Lounge, in partnership with Oculus (at the JW Marriott from March 11th to March 15th). There, we invite you to “Get In The Arena” and share how you will turn intention into action on the causes you care about, learn about the future of social good and hear more about the important work the Foundation is leading throughout the year. A few highlights:

  • Record a short film in our 360-degree video OrcaVue that will capture your very own “Get in the Arena” video moment;
  • Check out the virtual reality videos courtesy of Oculus for Good;
  • Donate to a charity of your choice with GoodWorld as they bring the #donate phenomenon to attendees live on site;
  • Demo our soon-to-be-released Impact Investing Network Map;
  • Test your knowledge of the inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem;
  • Share what you are going to do to “Get in the Arena” in 2017.

Veterans of SXSW will tell you there are countless sessions and meet-ups on just about every issue you care about—from ocean exploration, to inclusive entrepreneurship, to tech for good platforms that are changing the way we champion causes. To make the best use of your time at SXSW, here are 20 sessions that we think you shouldn’t miss:

MARCH 10th


1. The Rise of Academic Incubators
11:00am – 12:00pm
Hotel Van Zand, Lady Bird Ballroom

Join Texas A&M, Harvard University and more as they share how universities are responding with pathways, such as curriculum enhancements, mentorship programs, and physical incubator space, to facilitate connections to students, potential investors and industry leaders

2. Funding Our Future: Investing in Diverse Startups 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Hilton Room 400-402

Valmo Ventures, Base Ventures and Connectivity Capital Partners share why the growing trend of more tech startups being founded by Women, Latino, Black and Asian founders, greater investment in these ventures is needed to ensure the innovation and economic growth across all communities that these founders represent as the global population becomes more diverse.

3. Convergence Keynote Photographer Cory Richards 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 pm
Convention Center Ballroom D

A climber and visual storyteller, Richards was named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year (2012) and a National Geographic Fellow (2015). His photography has appeared in National Geographic Magazine, Outside Magazine, Man of the World, and The New York Times.

MARCH 11th


4. Navigating a Rapidly Changing and Connected World Steve Case and Beth Comstock 9:30am – 10:30am
Convention Center Ballroom EFG

Sensors that track a food’s temperature from source to store. Hospitals designed to avoid misdiagnosis. Traffic lights that actually respond to traffic. These are the changes we are likely to witness in the Third Wave: a period in which entrepreneurs will use technology to revolutionize major sectors—healthcare, manufacturing, education and food—and transform the way we live. Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and CEO of Revolution and Chairman of the Case Foundation, and Beth Comstock, Vice Chairman at GE, discuss how to adapt to the changes coming our way.

5. Changing the Face of Entrepreneurship with Jean Case 11:00am – 12:00pm
Hilton Salon C

Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. Tech pioneer and investor Jean Case explores the journey of fearless entrepreneurs who are changing the way business is done. She sits down with Reena Ninan of CBS News to discover the wide range of dynamic pioneering founders who are closing the opportunity gap and scaling creative solutions to persistent global problems. Challenge the traditional notions that entrepreneurs are exclusively wealthy, Ivy League educated white men in this conversation on how a new breed of entrepreneurs from all walks of life are fueling economic growth and shattering the status quo.

6. How Elections Change Next Gen Cause Engagement 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Hilton Salon F

Fact: Millennials value cause engagement. But what happens during an election year? Could politics influence how this generation participates in social causes? Achieve, in partnership with the Case Foundation, conducted a multi-stage research study on the millennial generation’s cause engagement as related to their political ideologies. The study measured how the 2016 U.S. presidential election affected how Millennials across the country engaged with social causes. The final 2016 Millennial Impact Report identified what, if any, demographic factors are connected to engagement trends. The final report will be debuted exclusively at SXSW and reveal key shifts that will alter how we think about this generation of changemakers. Speakers include Emily Yu of the Case Foundation, Abby Philip of the Washington Post, Carolyn DeWitt of Rock the Vote and Amy Thayer of Achieve.

7. Payments Gone Viral: The Rise of Social Commerce 3:30pm – 4:30pm
JW Marriot Salon D

Augmented reality. Hashtag payments. Messenger bots. The payments space is fundamentally changing: cash and checks gave way to credit and debit cards, which are now being replaced by apps. In an era where social proof reigns supreme, how is social media shaping the future of commerce. Meet a diverse cross-section of companies pioneering social payments: the ability to buy, pay and give on social media. Moderated by finance veteran Hans Morris (Visa, Citigroup, Nyca Partners), this session shows how the latest technologies enable people to pay where they play. Speakers include Dale Nirvani Pfeifer of GoodWorld, Kahina Van Dyke of Faecbook, Hans Morris of Nyca Partners and Ambarish Mitra of Blippar.

8. Harlem: The New Tech Frontier 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Hilton Salon E

Join Jessica O. Matthews of Uncharted Play as she explores how the startup is democratizing energy access worldwide, and changing the face of innovation. With its core technology MORE, (Motion-Based, Off-Grid, Renewable Energy) – a scalable system of micro-generators that can sustainably power cities – the company is eyeing infrastructure opportunities in emerging markets.

MARCH 12th 


9. Keynote with Lee Daniels
11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Convention Center room 18ABCD

Lee Daniels is a widely recognized director, writer, producer, and philanthropist in both the film and television space. He is perhaps best known for the 2013 critically acclaimed box office smash Lee Daniels’ The Butler, in addition to his 2009 feature Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire, which was nominated for six Academy Awards including “Best Motion Picture of the Year” and “Best Achievement in Directing.” The film also made history as Daniels became the first African-American to be nominated for the DGA’s Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film Award.

10. Humanitarian Design In Action 11:00am – 2:00pm
Hilton Salon D

In recent years, universities across the country have been increasingly engaging with the entrepreneurial ecosystem, developing programming internally to cultivate entrepreneurial activities and working to bring entrepreneurs into the university. Join MIT, Rice Univesity, StartX and the University of Chicago as they explore what bridges are currently being built to facilitate flows of information and people between universities and the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

11. Tech for Good: Solutions for the Refugee Crisis 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Westin Continental 2

When lives are at stake, it can be difficult to figure out how we can make a real difference. The Humanitarian Design Summit with Google, Facebook and Crack + Cider is about meeting the people who are using everyday design practices to prevent suffering and save lives. This workshop will task participants with rapidly designing responses to a real world crisis scenario. The goal isn’t to solve a difficult humanitarian problem, instead it’s an opportunity to test out the principles of Humanitarian Design in a risk-free environment with world-class designers.

* This session requires RSVP, and access will only be available to badge types listed under “Primary Access.” RSVP HERE.

MARCH 13th


12. How Tech Companies Can Give Back to Communities
12:30pm – 1:30pm
JW Marriot Salon D

Join Andrew Keen, Elaine Weidman-Grunewalk from Ericsson, Gary Shapiro of Consumer Technology Association and John Donovan from AT&T as they explore game-changing technologies and disruptive innovations and the sharing economy bring the power to improve our lives and what are the best practices that allow “Technology for Good” to authentically come into play with both the bottom line and corporate responsibility and community engagement.

13. Turning Inspiration Into Action on Instagram 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Hyatt Regency Ballroom 1

With over 600 million users, Instagram is the 2nd largest platform behind Facebook. From curated content to real life moments, Instagram is a place for inspiration and discovery. But how can marketers move inspiration and discovery to action? In this session, Instagram’s Michael Hondorp, the retail lead for the brand, will discuss the most innovative ways brands are driving impact with Instagram. From using ad formats in unexpected ways, to developing ideas customized for the feed, attendees will leave inspired to think differently about creating for the platform.

14. Interactive Keynote: Adam Grant 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Convention Center Ballroom D

Wharton’s top-rated professor, a New York Times writer on work and psychology, and author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Rule the World and Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. Grant has been recognized as one of the world’s 25 most influential management thinkers, and Fortune’s 40 under 40.

15. Kimbal Musk on Trust: The Currency of Our Generation 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Convention Center Ballroom EFG

Musk sits down with Fast Company magazine’s Amy Farley exploring the ability of consumers to uncover truth and authenticity in seconds with the help of the Internet is creating incredible opportunities in the food industry. As cofounder of The Kitchen, a family of businesses working in tandem to bring #realfood to everyone, he will discuss how farmers, consumers, and companies are demanding and delivering trust back to the table.

MARCH 14th


16. Investing to Change The World
9:30am – 10:30am
Convention Center Ballroom EFG

This panel will offer practical and powerful solutions for people who want to generate positive impact on society through their investments. Join Ben Jealous and Karina Funk of Kapor Capital, with Dune Thorne from the Brown Advisory and Victoria Fram of Village Capital as they explore the forefront of impact investing and will explore opportunities that range from green bonds to public equities to private equity investments. You can generate profits AND progress by investing in companies with cutting-edge environmental strategies, in bonds that fund clean energy or support low-income communities, and in innovative private investments that seek to drive social change.

17. National Geographic Explorers Changing the World 11:00am – 12:00pm
JW Marriott Room 203-204

National Geographic pushes the boundaries of exploration to further our understanding of the planet and empower us all to generate solutions for a healthier and more sustainable future. Meet the Emerging Explorers—fearless young scientists, conservationists, storytellers, and innovators who are harnessing technology to expand the frontiers of exploration. Join a discussion about taking risks, being bold and failing forward to change the world through technology for good with National Geographic Explorers Topher White and Erika Bergman and CEO Gary Knell.

18. How to Fundraise Without Silicon Valley 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Hilton Salon C

We are witnessing a new wave of investment and entrepreneurship in the United States. How can we level the playing field for women-entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color to fund, grow and scale their thriving businesses? Learn both investor and entrepreneur perspectives on what it takes to build and back inspiring companies and bring the deal process to life for diverse founders. Join Earl Robinson of Consequent Capital, Sarah Koch of the Case Foundation, Nicole Sanchez of eCreditHero and Carolyn Rodz of Circular Board for this engaging discussion.

MARCH 15th


19. Nonprofits Get the Keys to the VR Kingdom
12:30pm – 1:30pm
JW Marriot Salon 3-4

Virtual Reality has been touted as the ultimate empathy engine, immersing viewers in experiences that can open their eyes and create personalized memories for important causes. To widen the reach of this unique immersive technology to deserving nonprofits, Oculus has created the “VR for Good” workshop that pairs budding filmmakers with veteran VR talent to craft powerful storytelling pieces for a variety of featured charities and causes. Participants in the inaugural launch of this program will discuss their process in collaborating with these nonprofits and how the program combats the pitfalls that worthy causes often face with innovative marketing approaches.

20. How Brands Do Well By Doing Good 3:30pm – 4:30pm
JW Marriot Salon D

Cynics believe a marketer’s biggest goal is to get a consumer to click on an ad and purchase a product. This is especially true when it comes to digital advertising, which is immediately measurable, both in its success and failure. That’s what we call short-term thinking. The best brands think about themselves—and their stories—in the long term. They consider how to connect with consumers in a way that feels authentic, and that communicates something about what the brand stands for, something that goes far beyond whichever product they’re currently peddling. Upworthy presents the brands that do well by doing good.

Have a session or event that the team shouldn’t miss? Tweet us @CaseFoundation. We look forward to seeing you there!

Behind the Scenes with the Judges of #FacesofFounders

As part of the Case Foundation’s work in catalyzing the inclusive entrepreneurship movement, we launched the #FacesofFounders campaign last fall to change the narrative of who is and can be an entrepreneur. In October and November, over 3,000 people created a custom photo with a caption of what entrepreneurship means to them and nearly 750 founders submitted their entrepreneurship story. From our launch at the White House’s South By South Lawn festival, to Jean Case’s talk about unlocking the American Dream for all at TEDxMidAtlantic, #FacesofFounders has inspired and energized us all to join the movement for inclusive entrepreneurship. After some challenging choices and deep analysis by our guest judges, we’re excited to announce that the five winning stories will be featured on Fast Company starting February 27th!

In preparation for this reveal, we asked a few of our guest judges to share some behind the scenes insights and words of wisdom about the opportunities and challenges of being an entrepreneur. Thank you to all of our judges—we could not get to this point alone! We were joined by forty guest judges who are experts in entrepreneurship ecosystem building, investors or entrepreneurs themselves. Here is what they have to share with us as we all find new ways to #GetInTheArena and fight for meaningful inclusion in entrepreneurship.

What is a piece of advice you wish you had known when starting out in the entrepreneurship field?

Take action when you’re 80% ready. There are lots of people with great ideas, but the real traction is gained by those who take continuous action on those ideas.
– Carolyn Rodz, Circular Board

Surround yourself with a community of supporters. Ideas are born out of dreams for something new, different, and impactful. It takes a lot of time, nourishment, and most importantly a community of supporters to enable an idea to truly flourish into a venture. Every entrepreneurial success has taken hundreds of small and big connections to bring it to life.
– 
C’pher Gresham, SEED SPOT

Entrepreneurs are explorers. Your adventure will have extreme highs and lows, but the journey will be worth the destination.
– 
Elizabeth Gore, Dell

As an intrapreneur, I wish I knew that you don’t have to be perfect to launch a new project or endeavor. It’s so easy to get caught up in making something absolutely excellent, but the important lesson is don’t wait to launch. When we interviewed Eric Reiss of the Lean StartUp, I started to realize the importance of letting go of being a perfectionist and launching. Some of my favorite accomplishments have come from a Lean StartUp approach.
– Gabrielle McGee, Tory Burch Foundation

I wish I had known that making an impact or doing meaningful work is not enough to build a sustainable, impactful venture. For social entrepreneurs, we must do the work that changes lives but we also have to constantly build and cultivate relationships with supporters and stakeholders as well as be compelling advocates for our cause. Making a measurable impact on someone’s life is the hardest and most meaningful part of social entrepreneurship, but it takes even more than that (like fundraising skills, management know-how, etc.) to be a successful social entrepreneur.
– 
Darius Graham, Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins University

Plenty of smart, dedicated, and passionate entrepreneurs with promising viable business ideas have lost out on opportunities or money due to horrible pitches. Here’s how not to be one of them—don’t try to tell your life story. These are the pitch perfect things to you want to convey: how the product, service, or technology you are offering solves a problem or pain that you are familiar with; how much of your own time and money are you willing to risk; who is your competitor because every business has one; how are you going to acquire new customers and keep any existing customers happy; and what is your business model and how it will make you money.
– 
Carolyn Brown, Black Enterprise

In every meeting, focus on the value you are providing—not the value of your company, but the value to the other person! If you’re fundraising, you should understand the problem the investor is trying to solve, and focus your conversation on how you help them solve the problem (not why you’re great!). If you’re talking to a customer, understand what their pain point is and focus on how you help them solve it (not why you’re great!). When talking about value, it’s better to be specific and wrong than vague and right, so try and be as specific as possible: not just “better” but “3x faster”; not just “cheaper” but “half the price”.
– Ross Baird, Village Capital

Hire slow and fire fast. When you’re starting up you might have a tendency to try to hire people quickly because it feels like momentum. The problem with that is that you may be compromising culture fit and you’re signing up for more as you’ve added payroll which means you now have to do more to sustain the team.  Additionally, in a startup every moment matters so if you find yourself with a hire that is not working out, make a change as soon as possible. Most likely the hire in question knows that they’re not the right fit – so it shouldn’t be a surprise.
– 
Frank Gruber, Tech.co

Remember, everything you see is just a thought manifested. Your job is hustle, manifest and hustle some more! – Talib Graves-MannsBlack Wall Street Homecoming

What do you think distinguishes a promising entrepreneur?

I always keep an eye out for founders who are personally committed to their mission, and who have engaged others in making it come to life. When it becomes more than a solo mission, entrepreneurs hit a point where failure is no longer an option, and that’s where the real magic happens.
– 
Carolyn Rodz, Circular Board

I look for evidence that the applicant has a deep, intimate understanding of the issue being addressed and the population being served. This can be shown in different ways such as through work experience, academic study, or – most often – life experience. In my years of work supporting social entrepreneurs, one of the key things that sets apart the highly-impactful entrepreneurs from the less-impactful ones is an extensive understanding of the issue being addressed and the population being served.
– Darius Graham, Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins University

Relationships matter, which means people matter. Successful entrepreneurs understand this and have fostered important relationships to propel themselves to success. As much as it might sometimes seem, nothing is an overnight instance success.
– 
Frank Gruber, Tech.co

What surprised you about the #FacesofFounders applications?

What surprised me the most about #FaceofFounders applicants was how diverse the businesses were. Innovation is alive and thriving! It’s exciting to learn about businesses that are disrupting, creating new ways, new products and many of them are making a difference in the world and their local communities.
– Gabrielle McGee, Tory Burch Foundation

The sheer size of the positive energy around problem solving for experiences each founder had all over the country! My hope is #FacesofFounders has helped diverse entrepreneurs feel a community around them and that it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, where you grew up, or your political beliefs, but that ANYONE can start a venture with enough passion, true grit, and belief in creating a better future.
– C’pher Gresham, SEED SPOT

Thanks again to all of our guest judges and partners Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Google for Entrepreneurs and UBS who made this campaign possible. Because of these partners and the thousands that have committed to join the movement for a more inclusive approach to entrepreneurship, we are opening doors to innovators everywhere to start and scale their businesses. Come back on Monday to read the featured stories of fearless, problem solving founders on Fast Company!