Celebrating Inclusive Entrepreneurship at White House Demo Day

American innovation has long been the envy of the world. Throughout our country’s history, thanks to our free enterprise system, people from all walks of life have brought forth innovations that benefited society broadly—in all sectors such as energy, transportation, health care and more. These innovations often came about from those who “lived the problem” and dreamed great solutions that could benefit the masses. These were entrepreneurs who built young enterprises to bring their products and services to market and who often changed the world in the process.

Today, we need to ensure that American innovation isn’t simply about providing more convenience for the privileged—such as easier hotel bookings, more and comfortable ways to get from point A to point B or same-day delivery of groceries from an upscale market. To build solutions for the future, we need to move beyond the “app culture” and engage a new class of entrepreneurs—many who have lived real problems and are building real solutions to the challenges in our communities, and around the globe. But in recent years, this segment of entrepreneurs has often been left on the sidelines of innovations, with no steady flow of capital, mentorship or celebration focused on them.

It is well known that the vast majority of today’s celebrated startups continue to be founded by white, well-educated, well-networked males. And while we celebrate all startups and new innovations—we are underleveraged as a nation if those in more marginalized communities are left on the sidelines. There is, for instance, immense potential for women, people of color and those who don’t live on the coasts or graduate from our nation’s most elite schools. Women are leading 36 percent of all businesses in the U.S., but only receive 10 percent of venture capital funding. Minority-owned businesses are growing at a faster clip than non-minority owned businesses, but are receiving an even smaller fraction of investments. Seventy five percent of venture capital today goes to three states—California, New York and Massachusetts. There is a growing realization that this has to change, including at the highest levels in our nation and among those who are driving this change.

For example, today in New Orleans, PowerMoves, a minority-focused incubator, is backing young enterprises that reach across socio-economic barriers to bring opportunities to those often the last to benefit from innovation. In the first year of operation, PowerMoves worked with 87 companies to create 350 jobs in New Orleans and Detroit. Because of PowerMoves’ work, these companies were able to secure $14M in additional capital commitments to high growth, high tech startups led by entrepreneurs of color. Crystal McDonald, a PowerMoves entrepreneur, developed GoToInterview, a service to connect hourly workers with companies that have demand for them, and won the Rise of the Rest pitch competition in New Orleans.

And there are many more examples of entrepreneurs from underrepresented populations that are seeking solutions to problems that benefit all, like Pashon Murray, a dynamic entrepreneur of color in Detroit. Inspired at an early age by her father’s waste hauling company, Pashon turned family knowledge into a scalable business that takes food waste from companies, including General Motors and the Detroit Zoo, and transforms it into rich soil for local farmers to enhance crop productivity and create jobs. For Pashon, it’s not just about the hauling of waste—she is also a fellow at the MIT Media Lab studying the science of composting and waste reduction. She is combining science, engineering, the needs of a community and her entrepreneurial spirit to create a viable, scalable business in Detroit.

The opportunity to tap into the potential of these entrepreneurs is top of mind for us at the Case Foundation, and why we are delighted that today, the White House will host its first ever Demo Day, with a focus on inclusive entrepreneurship—bringing together entrepreneurs from all walks of life and from all across the country. We look forward to joining President Obama today in a commitment to see “more startup hotbeds emerge in every corner of America, and that those underrepresented in entrepreneurship are being tapped to fully contribute their entrepreneurial talents.”

In fact, here at the Case Foundation, we’ve long believed in the potential for unleashing entrepreneurs—and entrepreneurial approaches—as a clear path for making the world a better place. Over the past 18 years, we’ve developed and supported a range of initiatives—many of them in partnership with the White House, with Presidents of both parties—that put entrepreneurs in the middle of solving big problems, from the West Bank to Detroit, from DC to Nairobi. These initiatives include the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership, an effort to bring entrepreneurship opportunities to the West Bank that I was asked to co-chair in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Startup America Partnership, focused on celebrating and accelerating entrepreneurs here in the U.S., which we launched in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation and the Obama administration in 2011. More recently, our focus has shifted to an effort to unleash new capital for entrepreneurs building businesses that seek to address significant social challenges, through our work to catalyze the burgeoning impact investing movement.

Our efforts to support entrepreneurs and the role they play in driving innovation and job growth in the U.S. and around the world have certainly been rewarding. But in the past year, we began to ask ourselves, what role can entrepreneurship play in bringing new opportunities to those left on the sideline? How can we level the playing field for underrepresented communities—including women and people of color—to become entrepreneurs and grow thriving businesses? And how can we facilitate the creation of more businesses that address the challenges that marginalized populations are facing? To help us answer these questions, we began an exploration at the beginning of the year into potential opportunities for inclusive entrepreneurship, and funded two organizations doing important work in this space—Forward Cities and Opportunity Nation. We also joined the most recent Rise of the Rest tour, supplementing the visits to Richmond, Raleigh-Durham, Charleston, Atlanta and New Orleans with conversations focused on how to expand entrepreneurship as an opportunity for all. And we just returned last week from exploring these topics on a global scale during a trip to Africa, focused on exploring burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystems in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria.

We are committed to expanding our support for inclusive entrepreneurship, and in the coming months you will hear more from us on our efforts to build upon the momentum from national conversations around diversity, reduce common barriers to entrepreneurship faced by diverse entrepreneurs and scale local pilots into national programs serving women and entrepreneurs of color.

We have a tremendous opportunity today to tap into the uniquely American legacy of leveraging entrepreneurs to grow our economy, strengthen communities and solve intractable problems. But we’ll never recognize our full potential if we don’t focus on ensuring that we give all people—no matter their gender, ethnicity or economic background—the opportunity to be a part of growing entrepreneurial ecosystems, and tap their unique experiences to solve significant challenges. Imagine what is possible when we have a full team and all fields in play!

The White House Celebrates Corporate Pro Bono Service with A Billion + Change

On June 27, the Case Foundation was pleased to join our fellow leadership committee members at the White House along with other corporate, government, and nonprofit leaders who are creating social change through skills-based volunteerism. We were part of a celebration and a challenge issued by A Billion + Change, a national campaign to mobilize billions of dollars of pro bono and skills-based volunteer services from the business community to nonprofits.

More than half of the 200 companies that have pledged to create or expand skills-based volunteering programs joined us to talk about how far corporations have come in the past 10 years or so in enabling their employees to donate their skills, and not just their time, to nonprofits. We talked about not only the benefits to companies’ nonprofit partners, but also to their employees and to their bottom line.

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama and the Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, opened the forum and said that companies participating in A Billion + Change were a model for others driving positive social change around the world. Her comments were echoed later in the day by Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, and by Billion + Change Honorary Chairman Senator Mark Warner, who said that at a time when nonprofits are facing decreased revenues and more work, pro bono from corporations is increasingly vital.

The sentiments from leaders in the public sector were matched by those in the private sector. Our CEO Jean Case led a panel with leaders from Deloitte, the Ritz-Carlton, Capital One, COTTON7, and Golin Harris to talk about the business benefits of supporting employee pro bono. Across the board, each of the panelists said that his employees and his company received at least as much value from nonprofit partners as was provided. Pro bono was characterized as a win-win-win proposition for companies, employees, and nonprofits.

We have come a long way since Jean Case helped to start A Billion + Change in 2008 when she was a member of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation. So far, we are proud to announce that more than 200 companies have pledged over $1.8 billion and nearly 12 million hours worth of time and talent to nonprofits.

But, we still have a way to go to reach our goal. We are seeking a total of 500 companies willing to pledge their best business skills and talents to build the capacity of nonprofits at home and around the world. Together, we will inspire the largest commitment of corporate pro bono service in history so that one day, skills-based volunteering will be the ‘new normal’ in every workplace.

To join us in the pro bono movement, visit www.abillionpluschange.org and make a pledge.

Want to learn more?

Jean Case on White House Blog: Public Sector Prizes in Innovation Democracy

Today, the Case Foundation was proud to co-present “Collaborative Innovation: Public Sector Prizes” with the Joyce Foundation and the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy, bringing together hundreds of leaders from the Administration and federal agencies and some of the most recognizable companies and organizations to discuss how prizes and challenges are sparking innovation and deepening citizen engagement.

We were honored to present the Department of Health and Human Services with the first Award of Excellence in Advancing Public Sector Prizes and Innovation for their commitment to this increasingly used tool to solve some of our country’s most complex problems.

The Case Foundation has long supported prizes (like our America’s Giving Challenge) as a way to ignite community engagement, connect with hard-to-reach populations, spur innovation, and make philanthropy more democratic. The White House has been at the forefront of a similar appreciation of prizes and competitions in the public sector.To find new ideas and solutions for solving a range of challenges, we must be willing to fearlessly experiment and embrace approaches like prizes that produce impact.

For more about the Collaborative Innovation event and the Case Foundation’s support of public sector competitions and prizes, read our CEO Jean Case’s post on the White House blog.

Let’s Startup America!

America’s story has been forged in large part by entrepreneurs who have, against great odds, created innovative products and services that have changed the world – and created millions of jobs.

Today, as the Internet and new social technologies continue to explode and create new opportunities, as science and medicine advance at lightning speeds, and as the world grows more interconnected, the opportunities for entrepreneurship abound, but it’s up to a new class of creative risk-takers to unleash the next wave of American innovation.

As a result, I’m honored and thrilled to serve as chair of the Startup America Partnership, announced at the White House today, and co-funded by the Case Foundation and our great friends at the Kauffman Foundation, with Kauffman President and CEO Carl Schramm serving as a founding board member.

Startup America is a White House campaign to celebrate, inspire, and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation, and the Partnership represents the private sector’s commitment to the campaign. By creating an alliance of entrepreneurs, funders, CEOs, universities and other leaders, the Partnership represents an exciting opportunity for government and the private sector to work together to dramatically increase the prevalence, scale, and success of innovative, high-growth U.S. firms.

I know from my days at AOL that government can open doors and help spark new ideas. It can convene leaders and influencers from different worlds and put them in the same room to share ideas. It can challenge people and companies to do better, to do more. It can invest in and shape ground breaking research, and then, at its smartest, move aside and let innovation take hold.

But government can’t do it alone. Businesses need to take up the challenge and help to create an ecosystem that nurtures the creation and growth of new enterprises, companies that are “built to last” and will be the cornerstones of tomorrow’s economy.

Working together is the key. The Startup America Partnership will work to promote high-growth entrepreneurship across the country with new initiatives that encourage private sector investment in job-creating startups, accelerate research, and address barriers to success for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

It starts by celebrating entrepreneurship. Last week, when I heard President Obama say, “We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair,” I gave a cheer. As a society, we invest time and energy in what we celebrate. This Partnership is a way to celebrate, recognize and encourage entrepreneurs and innovators as a critical gear in the engine of growth.

I am excited to embark on this journey, working with many of our great public sector leaders who were at the launch today: Commerce Secretary Locke, the new head of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling, and SBA administrator Karen Mills. I am equally excited about the enthusiasm that the private sector has shown with significant commitments from companies like Intel, IBM, Ernst and Young, TechStars and so many others.

But, honestly, what I am most excited about is igniting a spark that propels young entrepreneurs and enterprises everywhere.

So, tell us what you think, share your ideas, and let us know your #startupamerica story on Twitter as well. Together we can create jobs, build the next great companies that bring hope and opportunity to communities, and Startup America!