A Look at Kresge and Surdna's Bold Plan to Catalyze Nationwide Creative Entrepreneurship

When we stumbled across recent news that the Pennsylvania's Entrepreneur Works Fund received a $100,000 grant from the Kresge and Surdna Foundations for its work in supporting West Philadelphia entrepreneurs, our first thought was, "What exactly did George W. Bush say about entrepreneurs and the French again?"

A quick google search revealed that Dubya apparently told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that "the trouble with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur." You may remember this. Well, as it turns out, there is no concrete evidence that Bush ever uttered these words, which I happen to find comforting.

What does this phantom quote have to do with this recent news out of Pennsylvania? Not that much really.

But it does give us an excuse to explore the state of the creative entrepreneur in today's economy. Forbes magazine recently reported the "State of Entrepreneurship," and it found that even though the economy continues to improve, diminished access to capital continues to stunt entrepreneurship. The panel suggested some regulatory reforms to help free up this much-needed money.

But some of us don't have the patience for regulatory reforms, which is why Kresge and Surdna's gift is so important. They're taking the lead on this. And it gets better.

The gift is part of a much larger, $1.3 million, two-year project called Catalyzing Culture and Community through CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institutions) to support their creative placemaking efforts by addressing the biggest obstacle facing entrepreneurs today: lack of access to capital.

Here's what happens: An entrepreneur has a bold idea to revitalize an underserved area. They make their pitch to a loan officer, who politely passes or offers loan at a cripplingly high rate because, let's face it, creative endeavors can be a harder sell from a dollars and cents perspective. And so a vicious cycle emerges. Entrepreneurs can't bring their vision to fruition, while banks rarely dabble in the creative enterprises that help revitalize communities.

The Kresge/Sunrdna program solves this problem by freeing up lenders to experiment with projects they might not have considered otherwise. "It provides risk capital," said Kresge president and CEO Rip Rapson.

 

The aforementioned Entrepreneur Works Fund is one such recipient lender. Their funding will provide local entrepreneurs with, among other things, access to loan capital and matching grants. Down in Nashville, a $200,000 gift to the Housing Fund will provide home and workplace loans to keep low- and moderate-income artists in the area. And in Albuquerque, the New Mexico Community Development Loan Fund will use its $200,000 for enhanced delivery of affordable credit and technical assistance to artistic and creative entrepreneurs in neighboring communities.

As you just saw, the program offers more than just money, which of course, certainly helps. But as any creative entrepreneur will tell you, the increased access to capital helps the most. That's the thing about money, isn't it? Maybe it can't buy you happiness... but why take that risk?