Why is the Blackstone Foundation Funding Social Enterprise in Rhode Island?

Memo to development officers: It's always good to have a U.S. Senator in your corner. Case in point: $200,000 in funding for two nonprofits in Rhode Island doing workforce development.

Through the Blackstone Foundation's Innovation Grants Initiative, the Founders League and the Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG) were selected to receive funding to support startups located in Rhode Island. Blackstone gave out $3 million in gifts this year to organizations around the country doing work to improve local economies and support business activity. Now in its third year, the Blackstone Innovation Grants program is a big piece of the foundation’s commitment to fostering entrepreneurship in the U.S. and abroad. 

What's the Senator's connection to all of this? Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) invited the Blackstone Charitable Foundation staff to visit Rhode Island in May 2014 and convened a meeting of Rhode Island stakeholders, including a roundtable co-hosted by the Providence Chamber of Commerce. After the visit, the Founders League and SEG came together to write a killer grant proposal that got them selected for funding. 

Senator Whitehouse cites the need to keep more talent in Rhode Island as one of the reasons he is glad that Blackstone is investing here. While the state is known for many stellar educational institutions, it is not known for retaining young folk after they start their careers. "Convincing them (young people) to stay in our communities, work with our startups and social enterprises, and launch their own ventures will be a real boost to our state," Whitehouse said in a recent statement regarding Blackstone's grant.

The Founders League is the central hub for helping build small businesses in Rhode Island. Started in 2012, The Founders League is a partnership between Betaspring, Brown University, the Providence Chamber of Commerce and the University of Rhode Island. Through shared working space and resources, this nonprofit serves 60 startups, and more than 1,200 entrepreneurs have been hosted by the Founders League for events that range from "casual programming, competition, and open events, to one-on-one mentoring and startup acceleration."

The Social Enterprise Greenhouse is thrilled to have the support. “With our progressive policymakers and local universities leading the charge, Rhode Island has become a national model of the power of social enterprise. This grant will allow Social Enterprise Greenhouse to work with students to launch and grow great local companies, that will make our communities more prosperous, resilient and equitable,” said SEG CEO Kelly Ramirez. Social Enterprise Greenhouse provides social entrepreneurs loans at below market rate as well as staged business planning and support.

The grant will fund Rhode Island StartZone, a statewide program connecting talented students and graduates from local colleges and universities with financial, technical, and networking resources to start their own companies or social enterprises in Rhode Island. StartZone will engage students through "on-campus outreach, a web-based dashboard for collecting helpful information, visits to local ventures and entrepreneurs, conferences, mentoring and advising, and speaking programs."

Related: What's Living Cities Doing with Citi to Push Innovation?