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.

#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.

Be Fearless Spotlight: Jay Newton-Small and the Story of Her Father

This Spotlight is a part of a special blog series curated by the Case Foundation featuring Be Fearless stories from the field. Follow along with us as we meet people and learn about organizations that are taking risks, being bold and failing forward in their efforts to create transformative change in the social sector. This Spotlight is authored by Jay Newton-Small (@JNSmall), Cofounder of MemoryWell, TIME magazine contributor and author of Broad Influence.

A few years ago, I put my father into a home for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It was the hardest decision of my life, but he was a wanderer and I couldn’t care for him on my own following the death of my mother. I didn’t know it at the time, but that decision would be the start of a long journey that would change both of our lives.

The home asked me to fill out a 20-page questionnaire about his life. This made no sense to me: who would remember 20 pages of hand-written data points for the 150+ residents there? Instead, I offered to write down his story. I’m a journalist after all, story telling comes naturally to me. They loved the story I wrote, it transformed his care; MemoryWell was born.

Over the next 2.5 years, I worked with a partner, Ilan Brat formerly of the Wall Street Journal, to write more life stories of people like my dad. We knew that this tool could help change the lives of the more than 44 million around the world currently living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia and the many who care for them. And so, we developed a website called MemoryWell to host the stories and allow family members to add their loved ones’ favorite photos, videos and music—so that when caregivers or family members sit with them they have a whole toolbox of things with which to engage them.

My firsthand experience with my father and Alzheimer’s helped me to identify a critical solution and develop MemoryWell in response. The leap from daughter to entrepreneur was a big one, but a necessary one as I realized what this tool could do for families like mine.

We got our first clients earlier this year and, less than two months later, I let urgency conquer fear and left TIME Magazine to work on MemoryWell full time. Our CTO Andrew Fribush joined our team this fall and we got accepted into Halcyon incubator in Washington, DC, in November.

While all this sounds easy: let me assure you it was not! We are journalists, not entrepreneurs. In our newsrooms, taking a stand is always discouraged: we are impartial observers of the events around us. Most journalists are given assignments instead of making them. We are naturally skeptical of salesmanship and marketing/PR puffery; we work well with structure and want steady jobs (although the upheaval in the industry is changing that). But, in short, journalism isn’t an industry predisposed to innovation and that’s why you see so few journalism startups. But as I saw the impact that storytelling could have in the lives of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, I knew that I had to take a risk in the face of these obstacles.

Certainly, our road hasn’t always been smooth and surely there will be many more bumps ahead. However, we have learned from every experience and failed forward to get to where we are today. We lost our first pitch contest to NewU, a group that gives grants to minority journalists, in September 2014, and then we lost three more Aging 2.0 pitch contests after than until Ilan finally won the Chicago Aging 2.0 contest in 2016—and still we didn’t make it to the national convention. The White House Summit on Aging loved our idea and approached us to participate in their 2015 summit only to cut us weeks later because we were too unproven. We’ve been blown off by investors and our bosses took extremely dim views of our extracurricular activities.

I’m taking a huge risk and it may well fail—indeed more startups do than succeed. But we feel passionately that stories can be used not just to inform the masses in a newspaper or magazine, but to affect change on a personal level, to build community where none exists. So instead of writing about the president-elect, I might be writing about your grandma, or your friend’s grandma, and nothing would make me happier.

Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading the Case Foundation’s free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.

Breaking Down the Barriers for Women Entrepreneurs

This post was contributed by Aaron Coleman, intern at the Case Foundation.

When she was only 22 years old, U.S. Marine Ramona Pierson was hit by drunk driver. The accident put her into a coma for 18 months. When she awoke, she weighed 64 pounds was bald, blind and couldn’t move nor speak. Through her grit and determination, Pierson fought her way back–learning once again how to breathe, walk and talk. Her journey of learning how to live again inspired her to found the personal learning tech startup Declara. In only three years, Declara has grown to 65 employees, attracted $32.5 million in funding and even impressed the President of the United States.

Pierson’s story runs against many of the implicit biases women entrepreneurs face. “They are unambitious, they are afraid of risk, they bring in less returns.”  These are words we hear echoing in conversations around the world and they reflect an implicit bias against women as entrepreneurs—who in reality are just as ambitious, eager and creative as their male counterparts. As the recent Kauffman Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Policy Digest report succinctly states, “research shows that women make great entrepreneurs.” The Kauffman Foundation’s report follows both the disparities and the opportunities surrounding women entrepreneurs, concluding, that while they “remain underrepresented among the ranks of entrepreneurs” the facts show that “women entrepreneurs are key to accelerating growth.”

Here at the Case Foundation we too believe in the power and potential of women in business, and are committed to leveling the playing field for underrepresented communities. We are inspired by Pierson’s story and the prospect of so many more like her. To help organizations get involved with supporting women entrepreneurs, we have included Kauffman’s top five policy recommendations below.

 

Top Five Policy Recommendations to Support Women Entrepreneurs

  1. Develop and Report Metrics for Entrepreneurship Programs and Initiatives: To understand how entrepreneurship programming serves women, attendance, participation, drop off rates and entrepreneurial outcomes should be collected and reported by gender. Armed with this information, program coordinators and funders can make adjustments to better assist women entrepreneurs.
  1. Increase the Number of Women Represented in Entrepreneurship Programs: When women are leaders at organizations that support entrepreneurs, they can help develop gender inclusive events that attract women entrepreneurs, as well as use their networks to help women entrepreneurs access mentors and financial capital. And in order to level the playing field for women, they need to be included and have equal representation in successful on-ramps for entrepreneurs.
  1. Increase Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Funding to Women-owned Businesses: In 2012, only 15 percent of SBIR awards went to women-owned businesses. Federal agencies should continue to increase awareness of the availability of these awards by partnering with women’s professional organizations and unifying outreach efforts to women entrepreneurs.
  1. Celebrate Successful Women Entrepreneurs: Stories of entrepreneurial success tend to be male-dominated. Government leaders can help deconstruct the false narrative that only men are successful entrepreneurs by lifting up stories of successful women entrepreneurs.
  1. Decrease the Risk of Becoming an Entrepreneur: Explore how various policies can help alleviate pressures and risks facing women, particularly those with young families, that can deter them from entrepreneurial ventures. For example, policymakers should examine whether subsidized child care or preschool could create a stronger environment for entrepreneurship.

 

Want to learn more about how to support women entrepreneurs? Read the Kauffman Foundation study in its entirety and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #Ent4All.

 

Unleashing Entrepreneurship in Africa: Solutions for the World

At the core of the Foundation’s “Unleashing Entrepreneurship” pillar is the belief that startups—and entrepreneurial approaches—play a key role in tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges. We’ve put that belief into practice by supporting promising initiatives that bring business to the problem-solving table and catalyze strong entrepreneurial ecosystems in the U.S. and abroad.

We’ve seen first-hand the role that a business approach can play in unleashing innovative new ideas and providing scalable models for change all over the world through a number of organizations and initiatives we’ve supported, including: the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership’s investment in entrepreneurs in the West Bank; Water for People’s efforts to leverage community-based entrepreneurs to provide access to clean water and sanitation in the developing world; and Startup America Partnership and UP Global’s development of strong entrepreneurial ecosystems. We’re also focused on building the impact investing movement, which we believe will catalyze a significant wave of new capital to companies that will not just benefit their shareholders, but society as a whole. The Foundation’s most recent exploration has been in launching an Inclusive Entrepreneurship initiative that confronts rising inequality and taps into the fuller entrepreneurial potential of communities and countries (including all backgrounds and locations) to get beyond those who traditionally have easier access to entrepreneurship and lift up women- and minority-owned businesses.

It is for all of these reasons that we are excited to participate in the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) taking place in Nairobi, Kenya later this week. We are thrilled to join the event as part of Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker’s official delegation. Our CEO, Jean Case, will moderate a panel on “Women Entrepreneurs” and will judge the GES “Women + Youth Day” seminal event—a pitch competition with financial and mentorship capital prizes. The Case Foundation is proud to contribute to both aspects of the prize pool. Steve Case, who will be participating in his capacity as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE), is moderating a panel on “Getting Ready for Growth” featuring groundbreaking entrepreneurs and investors, including fellow PAGE member Brian Chesky from Airbnb.

There is plenty of excitement over the fact that this year’s summit in Nairobi is the first GES taking place in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past few years, we’ve continued to hear about the shift from aid dollars to investment flowing to the continent, expressed by the familiar refrain that “Africa is open for business.” That is why in addition to our time at GES, we are excited to spend time in Nairobi, as well as in Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria exploring these emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems over the next few weeks.

In each city, we will have the opportunity to visit with some of the organizations we’ve supported in Africa over the years (including Sanergy in Nairobi), spend time at accelerators like the iHub, HubAccra and Co-Creation Hub and participate in panel discussions with leading African entrepreneurs and investors. We expect to learn more about the unique aspects that make each city’s entrepreneurial scene tick—from social entrepreneurs tackling challenges like energy and sanitation in Nairobi, to the fashion-savvy hub of Accra and the e-commerce revolution in Lagos.

Most of all, we are excited about spending time with the entrepreneurs—with special attention given to women entrepreneurs and social enterprises—who are at the heart of driving innovation in each of these cities. In addition to site visits with some of the continent’s fastest growing companies like M-Kopa in Nairobi, Andela and ACE in Lagos and the Cadling Fashion Factory in Accra, we will host a pitch competition in each city. A set of the most promising young startups in each region will vie for an investment prize of at least $25,000 from Jean and Steve Case, matched by local and international investors.

We can’t wait to hear the stories of these entrepreneurs who are working on game changing solutions not just for Africa, but also for the world, and sharing those stories along the way. Be sure to follow along via Twitter @CaseFoundation and #CaseAfrica, as well as via our personal Twitter handles: @AllieB, @SHerrling and @Broksas.

A New Path forward for UP Global

At the Case Foundation and Revolution, we have long been supporters of the idea that unleashing the power of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial approaches is crucial to drive innovation, accelerate economic growth, create jobs and solve big, intractable problems. That’s why we’ve invested directly in entrepreneurs, supported programs like the US-Palestinian Partnership (and as a result the creation of a venture capital fund in the West Bank) and created initiatives like the Startup America Partnership and Rise of the Rest. And it’s why I’ve served, and continue to serve, in leadership roles for efforts like the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.

In May of 2013, we supported the creation of a new organizationUP Global, which represented the combined power of the rapidly growing Startup Weekend and the Startup America Partnership, which we co-created alongside the Kauffman Foundation. I’ve been proud to serve as chair of UP Global as the organization seeks to leverage grassroots communities to create and nurture entrepreneurial ecosystems in the U.S. and around the world. Since that time, the UP Global organization has continued to expand – nearly doubling the presence of Startup Weekend, which in 2014 held 905 events in 501 cities (in 135 countries), and introducing new programming like Startup Week, bringing together 18,000 attendees in places like Columbus, Phoenix, Manila and Stockholm. You can learn more about the organization’s growth in its most recent impact report, available here.

Today, UP Global has taken an important next step in the future of the organization by becoming a part of Techstars, an organization that has played a key role in identifying high-potential entrepreneurs and bringing the power of the ecosystem to help them grow. The merger will combine two powerful entrepreneurial networks with closely aligned missions. It is our hope that the efforts of UP Global will continue to gain momentum, further extending its global footprint and reaching more people in more places.

The Startup Weekend, Startup Next, Startup Digest and Startup Week programs will remain under the Techstars umbrella, and while much of the groundwork and principles established by the Startup America Partnership efforts will continue within a number of Techstars programs, the brand will not. At the Case Foundation, we continue to see an opportunity for an effort focused specifically on the role of entrepreneurship to drive American innovation, and as a result we have retained the Startup America Partnership brand. We have begun to explore opportunities for future Startup America programming, and will have more to share in the coming months.

In the meantime, please join us in congratulating the UP Global and Techstars team as they forge a new path ahead for entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world.

Powering Entrepreneurship with Inclusion

At the Case Foundation, we believe that entrepreneurship is powerful driver of innovation, economic growth, job creation, and solutions to big, intractable problems at a global and local scale. But as we look at the increasing inequality – economic and digital divides – we have begun to explore how to tap into the fuller entrepreneurial potential of communities and countries – all backgrounds and all locations. We’ve also begun to explore the notion of catalyzing a movement in inclusive entrepreneurship built upon the theory of change that diversity breeds innovation and innovation breeds business (financial and social) success. There are a lot of ways to define “inclusive” entrepreneurship. To us, it means getting beyond those who traditionally have easier access to entrepreneurship and thinking about how to lift up—women- and minority-owned businesses, businesses that are funding good jobs for the community, and social enterprises that are committed to financial and social returns.

As part of our exploration phase, the Case Foundation team, led by our CEO Jean Case, returned to New Orleans to dive deeper into the entrepreneurship ecosystem there. Through our work with the collective impact organization, Forward Cities, we have been fortunate enough to meet entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders in New Orleans, Durham, Detroit and Cleveland who are committed to utilizing entrepreneurship to build their economies. Our team has spent the past six months listening and learning about the concept of Inclusive Entrepreneurship and we have emerged from this period of exploration even more convinced of the power of inclusion.

Our time in New Orleans was spent learning about the rebuilding of the city as we approach the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and meeting with on-the-ground ecosystem builders who are using the power of inclusivity to create thriving entrepreneurship communities.

We want to extend a warm thank you to our partners on the ground in New Orleans who shared their approaches to inclusive entrepreneurship and walked us through their city and their work while we were there. Accelerators like PowerMoves and Propeller, along with ecosystem builders like Greater New Orleans, Inc., and advocates like former New Orleans Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer have seen the value in democratizing entrepreneurship and are actively creating a more inclusive New Orleans.Photo May 08, 11 09 39 AM

And we ended our visit with a full house at NoBic, as part of the Rise of the Rest road trip, featuring the importance of diversity and inclusion in rebuilding and growing New Orleans through entrepreneurship. Jean Case led a dynamic conversation with star innovator Beth Galante and ecosystem builders Earl Robinson and Tim Williamson. It is leaders like these who are breaking down barriers and bringing the power of inclusivity to the forefront of the New Orleans entrepreneurship landscape.

And how wonderful to see the power of inclusive entrepreneurship pay off, with PowerMoves-backed entrepreneur Crystal McDonald and her company GoToInterview, win the Rise of the Rest pitch competition and a $100,000 investment.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 1.54.15 PM

The conversation on diversity and inclusion continues to grow. It is clear that if we want to build up our cities and grow our economies, we need to follow in New Orleans’ footsteps and level the playing field to bring more people to the table and maximize the full potential of local, national and global talent to building the companies that are going to change the world.