Blackstone, one of the world’s largest alternative asset managers founded by Stephen A. Schwarzman and Peter G. Peterson, best known for helping pioneer the structured finance approach that became the crux of the private equity industry, established a Foundation that currently has a $50MM initiative focused on entrepreneurship.
Building on the entrepreneurial roots of the founders, who started Blackstone with $400,000 and a secretary over twenty five years ago, they along with Blackstone employees, seeded The Blackstone Charitable Foundation. The Foundation was created at the time of the Firm’s IPO, and in April 2010, it announced a 5-year commitment to entrepreneurship. To run the not for profit initiative, Blackstone brought in a trailblazing executive, Amy Stursberg to lead the charge in creating the first targeted approach towards supporting entrepreneurship on a nationwide level.
According to Ms. Stursberg, “the goal of the Foundation is to promote building robust ecosystems in regions in need by bringing together local organizations, the business community, and government entities to support entrepreneurs and innovation.” Ms. Stursberg explained that “impactful projects are not easy to find,” and she has spent a great deal of time traveling around the country to find promising entrepreneurs and communities in need to jumpstart.
Blackstone brings its unique perspective and network to the programs it funds, including its deep portfolio of companies, operators and investors, and routinely connects partners with resources they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. This provides a ‘unique advantage for our programs” according to Ms. Stursberg.
The Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s programs are focused on developing regional entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Blackstone Launchpad: This program establishes a dedicated entrepreneurship center at college campuses. Through education, venture coaching, and access to a network of experts, young student entrepreneurs are given the tools to bring untested ideas to market. Blackstone LaunchPad replicates and implements a program developed at the University of Miami, which to date, has generated 65 start-up ventures, 210 new jobs and drawn nearly 2,000 student participants. In 2010 the first Blackstone LaunchPad was opened at two schools in Detroit. The early success of the program drew attention from the White House, and as part of the Start Up America Initiative, Blackstone committed to expand the LaunchPad program to five regions over the next five years. The first expansion region was Northeast Ohio and the Foundation will bring the program two new regions this year.
Blackstone Entrepreneurship Network: Blackstone targeted the North Carolina Research Triangle that had “$3 billion dollars invested in research yet surprisingly little company formation” according to Ms. Stursberg. The Foundation partnered with four institutions (including Duke and UNC) to identify and connect high growth ideas with “Master Entrepreneurs” and nurture thirty companies per year over five years. This intensive mentoring is aimed at helping ventures develop their ideas and products, giving them a framework to execute their ventures.
Blackstone Accelerates Growth: In 2011, the Foundation committed $3 million to support the creation of Blackstone Accelerates Growth in Maine, an initiative designed to foster innovation, spur economic growth and help Maine transition from a historically resource based economy to an innovation economy. With local partners, the initiative will create regional hubs of innovation and entrepreneurship that target training, coaching and mentoring services to the state’s most promising businesses primed for growth.
When Amy first joined Blackstone, she was tasked with the question of “how can we make an impact” and set out to develop and fund programs that would ultimately create a national culture of regional networks of innovation and entrepreneurship through the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. However, “The key metric is job creation.” According to Ms. Stursberg, success comes back to forming a network that supports companies and created jobs, so it’s important to ensure all programs have clear goals. “We aim for regional change that is forward thinking and impactful and can support ventures to create jobs.”