Changing the Face of Entrepreneurship

Throughout our nation’s history we have celebrated entrepreneurship as a key to unlocking economic and technologic advancement, seeing ourselves as a country of innovators, discoverers and inventors. And each February we honor the integral role that black history has played in building and strengthening our nation. This week, I am thrilled to be in Miami for Black Tech Week and the launch of our partner PowerMoves’ recent expansion into the region. I can’t think of a better way to honor the role that entrepreneurs of color have played in making America the greatest “startup” ever!

But here’s the rub: when we talk about startups and entrepreneurship today, why is it that we are so hard-pressed to name entrepreneurs of color that made history and shaped our collective future? Why does our collective conscience go to equating “entrepreneur” with a white guy in a hoodie, toiling away alone in his garage, until he has a Eureka moment that changes life as we know it? Myths of the Entrepreneur persist and are perhaps disproportionately holding back entrepreneurs of color when our nation needs them most.

Let’s be reminded of some of the greatest innovations of our time, all led by entrepreneurs of color:

  • The carbon-filament light bulb invented by Lewis Latimer in 1881. Thomas Edison gets all the glow (no pun intended), but Latimer’s filament made it cheaper, more efficient and, therefore, more practical and profitable.
  • The gas mask invented by Garrett A. Morgan, first used in 1916.
  • Blood banks, made possible by the invention of Dr. Charles Richard Drew in 1940, which allowed plasma to be dehydrated and countless lives saved since.
  • Refrigerators, invented by Frederick M. Jones in 1940, modernized farming and shipping, and led to the introduction of modern-day supermarkets.
  • The automatic oil cup for train parts, invented by Elijah McCoy; his design was so superior to the many knock-offs that engineers ordering them asked for “The Real McCoy” (ok – really, how many of you knew that’s where that term came from?!)
  • The potato chip! Invented by George Crum in 1853, the potato chip industry became a billion dollar business, creating a massive amount of jobs and certainly changed my world.

And let’s highlight some modern-day entrepreneurs of color showcasing the power and potential of diversifying the current state of our nation’s entrepreneurship:

  • Publisher John H. Johnson who started both the Ebony and Jet brands and the first African American to appear on the Forbes 400 list.
  • Financier Melody Hobson of Ariel Investments, which today is the largest minority owned investment firm in the world with nearly $11 billion in assets.
  • Hotelier and sports team owner Sheila Johnson, who was co-founder of BET and the first African American female billionaire.
  • Entrepreneur and investor Daymond John who is founder and CEO of FUBU and a judge on the hit show Shark Tank on ABC.
  • CEO Janice Bryant Howroyd of ACT-1 Group, the nation’s largest black female owned business with more than $1.4 billion in revenue.
  • Earl Robinson, CEO of PowerMoves (disclosure: PowerMoves is a grantee of the Case Foundation), which has backed 100 minority-founded companies, raising $27 million in venture capital and creating more than 350 jobs.
  • Kesha Cash, founder of Impact America, investing in underserved communities.
  • And venture capitalist Erik Moore with five exits under his belt and dozens of investments in companies like

So much history to celebrate. So much to be inspired by. And so much more to do to recognize and realize the full innovation potential of America by leveling the entrepreneurship playing field for all. Connecting social and financial capital to women and entrepreneurs of color who continue to be under-represented and whose success will serve as inspiration to a whole new set of young dreamers looking for role models to whom they can relate. Sadly, today only 3% of venture-backed companies have female CEOs and only 1% have founders of color; Project Diane’s report on the success of African American women in tech is best summarized by Wired as “embarrassing.” Making entrepreneurship more inclusive isn’t about charity or political correctness; it’s about sound business. Research shows that companies in the top quartile for gender, racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. And in many respects, it’s about restoring the American dream.

The talent, the companies and the opportunities to level the playing field are out there. There just needs to be more intentionality in the discovery and sourcing process. Over the last two days, I’ve seen some of our future nation shapers on stage at PowerMoves Miami launch. Companies like Neurtronic Perpetual Innovations, LISNR, VOO Media Group and Kairos have all each raised more than $5 million with disruptive ideas. Watch out for Virgil, a mobile-first career navigation platform, who today won the Knight Foundation’s Angel Round Pitch Competition, which I had the honor of judging. And please, let’s model the secret sauce of PowerMoves in sourcing successful black female founders – of the 11 (yes, only 11!) black female founders that have raised more than $1 million in outside investment, four of them — Lisa Dyson of Kiverdi, Kellee James of Mercaris, Cheryl Contee of and Jewel Burks of Partpic (disclosure: Partpic is an investment of our founder Steve Case) — are alumna of the PowerMoves model, collectively raising nearly $50 million in capital.

Join us in our crusade to diversify the face of entrepreneurship. Tell us which entrepreneurs of color are on your radar and what’s standing in the way of unleashing their full potential. Share with us on Twitter at @CaseFoundation using #Ent4All.

Women’s Venture Xchange-Africa: Expanding Women-led Businesses in Africa

Global Entrepreneurship Network is now accepting applications for Women’s Venture Xchange-Africa!

This year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi, Kenya put a spotlight on the rising stars of entrepreneurship and the burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem in Africa. The summit showed how the people and companies of Africa are ripe for real financial investment to grow their businesses, strengthen their communities and provide solutions for some of the world’s most pressing problems. The Case Foundation was honored to join GES and get a first hand look at the individuals, communities, policies and programs driving competitive and novel business ideas to scale. And we were particularly honored to pivot the main spotlight to shine on women entrepreneurs and the economic and business case for investing in their success.

Part of that spotlight includes a new partnership with the Women’s Venture Xchange-Africa (WVXA), a pilot launched at the Summit with Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), the Mara Foundation and U.S. Department of State, WVXA will provide four African women entrepreneurs the opportunity to scale their business through access to strong mentorship and capital networks in Nairobi. The program is designed to help established women-owned businesses expand beyond the borders of their own countries—gaining access to new regional markets, research and insights into best practices.

The entrepreneurs will be selected based on their company’s likelihood of successful regional expansion, the business’s growth stage, the uniqueness of the concept and their professional ambitions for their time in Nairobi. WVXA will be focused on drawing entrepreneurs who have established their businesses locally and are poised for cross-border expansion within East Africa.

We look forward to seeing the results of the first cohort of entrepreneurs and building upon the evidence base from our own work in driving more inclusive entrepreneurship – entrepreneurship that is more inclusive of under-represented groups, more inclusive of under-leveraged places and more inclusive of businesses that shoot for financial AND social impact returns. We are thrilled to see the belief in the power of entrepreneurship continue to thrive in every corner of the world, and look forward to seeing how WVXA unlocks the huge potential in the four women entrepreneurs selected to participate this year.

For more information or to apply to the WVXA program visit the Global Entrepreneurship Week website. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until October 23, 2015. Stay tuned for more updates as the application and selection process develop!

What’s So Wrong with Nonprofits Playing by Market Rules?

Here’s the thing about markets – they have this uncanny way of being candid, sending demand signals that companies need to pay attention and adapt to in order to thrive, if not survive.

So why is it that the nonprofit sector is uncomfortable with embracing more market-based approaches to its work? This week’s feeding frenzy of articles criticizing the Council on Foundations for its experiment to host a $40,000 pitch competition to identify new organizations and approaches to drive social change is an example of this discomfort. In fact, the frenzy was so severe, that the Council decided to cancel the pitch competition and instead host a discussion on the merits and drawbacks of new approaches to grantmaking.

One of the pillars of our work at the Case Foundation is “revolutionizing philanthropy.” We believe that the practice of mobilizing private capital for public good is in need of a major reboot. In order to keep up with the pace and scope of major social challenges, the resources and tactics going into addressing these challenges and the organizations managing those resources need to be more efficient and effective. And as a sector, we need more catalytic, collaborative and creative solutions.

That’s why we’ve tested programs like the Make It Your Own Awards, the first campaign to open up a part of the grantmaking process to an online public vote. Or the America’s Giving Challenges (in 2007 and 2009), which mobilized over 150,000 donors to give $3.8M to over 14,000 causes, most of which were small and scrappy. That’s why we created the Be Fearless campaign – because we believe that in order to create more innovation in our approaches to social change, we must all take risks, embrace and learn from failure and make big bets. And that’s why we consistently provide catalytic funding to partners that are experimenting with new approaches and hoping to find breakthrough solutions and collaborations.

We’ve long championed the potential for prize and challenge programs – including initiatives like pitch competitions – to discover breakthrough innovations. We know that sometimes the people with the most innovative solutions to big problems will be found in unlikely places – just take the wedding dress designer who played a critical role in helping to dramatically improve the design of the Ebola Protective Suit worn by health care workers treating the disease, thanks to a challenge hosted by USAID’s Global Development Lab. The U.S. government has broadly embraced the use of prizes and challenges, which kicked off with the Summit on Innovation that we co-hosted with the White House in 2010, leading to the creation of, which hosts hundreds of prize and challenge competitions across 50 federal agencies. And we were proud to join some of the philanthropic sector’s leading innovators – Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Joyce Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation – in publishing a 2014 report on the ways in which incentive prizes are transforming the innovation landscape.

We love to see new practices for crowdsourcing ideas, pooling resources, disrupting old ways of doing business, testing new approaches and massively publicizing – if not competing – new programs. Why? Because, quite frankly, despite a massive amount of good accomplished with billions of nonprofit dollars, the evidence base for impact remains unsatisfying. We’re not saying that we should swing the pendulum completely toward prizes, challenges and other experimental approaches – but deploying tactics that can help us discover new ideas from unlikely places is desperately needed.

We have a saying at the Case Foundation based on an old African proverb – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. What if, instead of trashing the Council on Foundations for trying something new, we embraced it as a fearless attempt to disrupt the status quo with the hope of finding a better way? Sure, we might each have our tweaks on how to make it better (e.g., having a panel of judges, not the audience, vote on the winner). But as a tactic, it brings a fresh market-based approach and has the potential to expose innovative people and ideas to a broad community of funders, who just might decide it’s worth pooling their resources for greater and faster impact.

We look forward to the discussion on the merits of new grantmaking approaches at the Council’s conference, but we’ll wistfully be wondering what it would be like with the pitch competition in full swing, tapping into the “wisdom of the crowd” and fully embracing of the idea of democratizing philanthropy, making it easier for anyone to participate in the efforts to solve big, hairy problems.

Want to continue the conversation? Tweet us @CaseFoundation with the hashtag #CFBlog

Teaming up to Share Lessons on Designing Contests for Impact

Below, Case Foundation Senior Fellow Sonal Shah and Mayur Patel, Knight Foundation’s Vice President for Strategy and Assessment write about the importance of challenges and prizes as a tool for social change. This post originally appeared on the Knight Foundation blog.

In a world where technology has opened up access to a vast pool of talent and constant change has become the norm, contests offer a path to new ideas, new players and new ways of solving problems. We have seen a revival in contests as a way to discover new solutions and bold ideas across industries and sectors.

Leading companies, including Netflix, Google and Cisco, have tapped into challenges and prizes as a way to stimulate new business and technology innovations. Public agencies have also joined in, using contests as a way to make progress on a range of social issues, from reducing obesity to conserving household energy use. Last month, the U.K. government announced in grand fashion a new £1 million “Longitudinal Prize” committee to design competitions with the aim of tackling societies’ complex problems. The U.S. federal government continues to invest in its challenges and prizes platform, The platform provides opportunities for government agencies to tap into the potential of their citizens through prizes such as the NASA Centennial Challenges and public/private challenges such as Mozilla Ignite.

Despite this growing trend, many foundations have yet to use contests as a tool to advance their work and support innovation. Apprehension and uncertainty affect the willingness of many to adopt this tool. Additionally, it is not always clear where to start and how to design effective contests. Good design is key for successful contests, prizes and challenges. Sometimes even the failures can teach a lot about the effectiveness of the challenge or provide a better understanding about behaviors.

That’s why Knight and the Case Foundation, early adopters in this space, have teamed up to share experiences on contests, prizes and challenges and offer some valuable lessons learned along the way. On Aug. 8, we’re hosting a joint webinar, “Designing Contests for Impact.” The webinar, which begins at 1 p.m. EDT, will be geared towards foundations and other organizations interested in launching their own contests. We’ll share tips and practical advice on designing, setting up and running contests.

Knight and Case have been engaged in using contests to advance our missions for more than five years. These have ranged from the Knight News Challenge to Case’s America’s Giving Challenge. We’ve used contests to tap into fresh thinking, providing simple opportunities for new people to engage in problem-solving, and to generate widespread interest and attention on social causes and challenges.

The Knight Foundation has used contests across its program areas, and recently shared their experiences in a new report, “Why Contests Improve Philanthropy: Six Lessons on Designing Prizes for Public Impact”). Knight has granted more than $75 million to individuals, nonprofits and commercial enterprises through prizes and contests. They’ve supported experimental arts projects, resident-led neighborhood improvements, tech startups and data applications.

At the Case Foundation we have made similar progress in developing contests as a tool for our philanthropy.  That work also led to a report for the industry on how contests can impact our work: “How Giving Contests Can Strengthen Nonprofits and Communities.” In addition, the Case Foundation has co-hosted several cross-sector gatherings with the White House, bringing together experts in prizes and challenges from the corporate, public and foundation/nonprofit sectors to share knowledge and explore new opportunities for collaborating.

At both Knight and Case, we believe that prizes and challenges provide an opportunity to democratize ideas and are tied to a growing movement in open innovation. The social web provides unprecedented opportunities for collaboration on a mass scale. We have been experimenting and testing ways to run effective challenges for many years—but we’re not the only ones.  Other foundations and organizations have been doing great work in leveraging prizes, including the X-Prize Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.  We believe that the potential is significant and look forward to the webinar on Aug 8.  We hope you will join the conversation.

The Gamification Revolution Goes Global

This post was written by Alicia Bonner Ness on behalf of the Case Foundation: 

Alicia Bonner Ness (@AliciaBNess) is the Communications Manager at CDC Development Solutions where she seeks to amplify the stories and impact of skills-based volunteerism and enterprise development around the globe. She is the editor of the online magazine The New Global Citizen.

Last month GSummit stopped in Washington, DC for GSummitX, a Meetup event designed to educate the masses about the benefits of gamification.

“Gamification?” You say. “I think I’ve heard of it but…” Blank stare.

It’s this response that leads Gabe Zichermann, the author of The Gamification Revolution and two other books, to lead workshops on the topic.

Psychological understanding of gaming is changing the way organizations and even governments motivate positive behavior change and compliance. To illustrate the point to his audience, Gabe called out the efforts of the Swedish government to lower driving speeds with Speed Camera Lottery, Domino Pizza’s attempt to grow its market share with Pizza Hero, and Nike’s business model transformation that was powered by the introduction of Nike+.

Gaming behavior follows a simple cycle, driven by dopamine production. When we take on a challenge, and achieve a goal, we experience dopamine release, or pleasure, which further motivates us to continue to the next challenge. When individuals compete, the incentives that most successfully reward behavior can be surprising. In descending order, effective rewards are Status (hello, leader board!), Access, (hello, Mr. President), Power, (go fetch, Mr. President), and Stuff ($$$). Gabe argues that the efficacy of these rewards is linked to human habituation. This cycle can reinforce any behavior cycle, but when harnessed for good, it can propel greater compliance and achievement.

To illustrate the point, GSummitX lead the audience through an interactive “Gamestorming” activity, Play for a Cause, engaging participants in a game that solves a social good problem—CDC Development Solutions was fortunate enough to be the beneficiary.

We asked, “How can we get more Americans engaged in the world?

Gabe proceeded to facilitate a Gamestorm called 3-12-2. In tables of eight, each participant has three minutes to write down as many aspects of the problem as they can think of. When time is up, each table breaks up into teams of two, and each team uses the problem aspects as inspiration to brainstorm one solution to the problem. For two minutes, the table discusses amongst itself to vote on its two best ideas. Each of the winning teams shares their idea with everyone, and the moderator then empowers everyone to cast two votes for the winning idea.

As we watched the teams brainstorm about the challenge, many considered how to circumvent language barriers, how to overcall negative perceptions of Americans around the world, and how to increase cross-border exchange through sports. The two winning ideas were both fantastic, but for me, the second runner up was the most innovative. The first proposed an athletic exchange program among collegiate athletes. The second proposed a shift in thinking among leading corporations from “MBA preferred,” to “global citizenship preferred,” placing a premium on globalism to compete for high-impact professional positions. (Indeed, many leaders, like Ángel Cabrera, are already encouraging just such a shift in thinking).

Interestingly, none of the participants voiced strategies that would compel Americans to investigate cultural exchange opportunities right in their own back yard—most considered effective ways to help Americans leave the United States. But it’s the work of the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy, a division of CDS, that seeks to encourage exactly this kind of American engagement to increase awareness of ways you can both be a global citizen and sleep in your own bed.

To this end, they are launching a campaign: You had me at Hello—you can follow the campaign at #helloworld.

This publication is also aimed at amplifying cross-cultural stories of collaboration and impact. You can read here about how to tell your story. And of course, you can visit GSummit to find out how you can use gamification for good!

Portland Junior Scientists Voted Finding Fearless Fan Favorite

Congratulations to Meghana Rao and the Portland Junior Scientists team! More than 10,000 votes were cast during the Finding Fearless Fan Favorite Voting and after carefully reviewing all of the ballots submitted we are pleased to officially report that the public overwhelmingly selected Portland Junior Scientists to win both Fan Favorite awards. Led by Meghana Rao, Portland Junior Scientists was voted the winner of an additional $10,000 bonus grant AND the REI adventure experience at Bryce Canyon National Park!

We launched Finding Fearless in September to recognize, reward, and inspire fearless changemakers. We received nearly 1,200 nominations with stories of fearless efforts happening around the country. Our Fearless Academy of nearly 100 judges reviewed the nominations and we selected the Top 20 winners. These winners all receive grants from the Case Foundation and the Goldhirsh Foundation ranging between $1,500 and $10,000, $25,000 in Microsoft software donations, an REI gift card, and a Microsoft Prize Pack, altogether totaling nearly $670,000. Additionally, all 20 winners had a chance to win more money and prizes in Fan Favorite Voting and impressively mobilized their communities. We were excited to watch the overwhelming interest in these fearless people and projects. And while Meghana managed to come out on top, all 20 projects have gained new supporters and advocates that will champion their work in the months and years ahead.

More about our Fan Favorite Winner

When Meghana Rao was 16, school funding cuts and a deep passion for science motivated Meghana to create Portland Junior Scientists. Portland Junior Scientists is a student-run volunteer organization connecting high school students with underprivileged and at-risk kids to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with hands-on experimentation and discussion. Meghana’s main goal is to inspire students in underfunded schools lacking a deep science and math curriculum to pursue careers in science. We are excited to work with Portland Junior Scientists to continue to advocate for the importance of science education!

Meghana’s “get out the vote” efforts landed Portland Junior Scientists in first place for both the $10,000 bonus grant from the Case Foundation and the REI Adventure Trip. Meghana and three friends will receive a trip of a lifetime through REI Adventures valued at $5,000. They will get to visit Bryce Canyon National Park through an exclusive camping experience that celebrates having fun outdoors REI-style with the best gear, great food, and incredible guides. REI Adventure’s Signature Camping trip to Bryce Canyon is certain to provide an amazing experience and a lifetime of memories.

We are truly inspired by Meghana and all of our Finding Fearless winners! From youth programs to civic engagement and health, Finding Fearless changemakers are championing new ideas across the country. Check out our infographic with more details on our Finding Fearless participants and stay tuned in the next few months as we continue to lift up all of our winners. We will be following their progress, sharing their stories, and reporting back on lessons from the Finding Fearless program itself. In the meantime, meet the rest of the winners, read their stories, get inspired, and keep supporting their work at