A Push for Inclusive Entrepreneurship in Chicago by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation


Our past coverage of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation (BCF) has largely focused on how this private equity firm funder gives globally to inspire the spirit of entrepreneurship. Ever since the Blackstone Group went public in 2007, the foundation has been giving in places like India, South Africa, London and Ireland. Economic development and women-led businesses have been top interests for the funder over the past decade.

However, BCF also has a strong Chicago connection and close relationship with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. About a year ago, Emanuel and Blackstone president and COO Jon Gray launched the Blackstone Challenge and announced that it would fund eight pilot programs to recruit and engage diverse and underserved entrepreneurs in the city. More than 13,000 aspiring entrepreneurs participated in hundreds of workshops and programs as part of this effort. More recently, BCF and ChicagoNEXT of World Business Chicago announced the next phase of this challenge, which involves $1.7 million in grants for local groups to expand their entrepreneurship programs. The new grantees are Bunker Labs, Future Founders, Bethel New Life and BLUE 1647.

Like other major cities, Chicago is keen to boost its tech sector, creating new jobs and opportunities. Entrepreneurs are a critical ingredient in these plans. And with coastal tech hubs like Boston and Silicon Valley becoming ever more unaffordable places to live, the timing is good for Chicago to step up efforts to nurture or retain homegrown tech talent. Meanwhile, as we've reported, the city is also the focus of a push by JPMorgan Chase to bolster small businesses, upskill workers, and boost community development. Many private philanthropies are investing in these same areas, as we often report, including the new Obama Foundation. 

Mayor Emanuel said:  

Blackstone and the Blackstone Charitable Foundation have been very intentional and impactful about investing in Chicago as both a corporate and civic partner. Chicago is leading the nation when it comes to inclusive entrepreneurship, and the next phase of the Blackstone Challenge will direct substantial resources to organizations that work tirelessly to make sure anyone can be an entrepreneur.

This is just the second year of the Blackstone Challenge, and each of the new Chicago grantees are receiving $400,000 to $450,000 each. BCF hopes that this next phase will help diverse entrepreneurs in Chicago expand their programs, grow their businesses locally, and also expand throughout the region and country down the road. There’s also a big push right now to make sure that aspiring entrepreneurs from all backgrounds (especially communities of color, women, veterans and immigrants) have equal access to the innovation ecosystem in Chicago that’s getting bigger by the year.

BCF is not accepting unsolicited grant proposals at this time, and it is not holding an open request for proposals this year. Future opportunities will be posted on Twitter: @BlackstoneEI