First Year of the BX Challenge Scales Programs for Inclusive Entrepreneurship


Cohort organizations advance with funding, WBC and ChicagoNEXT commission impact measurement report

The inaugural Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge (BX Challenge) has successfully provided grant funding to innovative organizations that will serve underserved populations, including communities of color, women, veterans, and immigrants. The aim of the initiative backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and ChicagoNEXT of World Business Chicago (WBC) is to recruit and support underserved entrepreneurs throughout Chicago.

The initial distribution of $1 million in grant funding to selected programs has already helped spur the formation of 12 companies and the development of 805 members for the cohort.

The cohort-based model of the BX Challenge has facilitated an openness and collaborative spirit between leading members of participating organizations, a spirit which was on full display during the first two Cohort Mixers held at 1871 and the EscapeHouse.

To ensure its progress, WBC and ChicagoNEXT have partnered with the JP Morgan Chase Foundation to create a Quarterly Project Review Panel to analyze the impact of both the individual BX Challenge Cohort member programs and overall initiative.

By engaging with outside organizations like ICIC and Justice Informed to consult on the work, the final goal will be to publish an impact measurement report near the end of program year one that will include a guidebook of best practices that can be utilized by foundations and organizations across the nation in the field of inclusive entrepreneurial development.

Here’s an update on each member organization:

  • 1871 launched 1871LIVE with community partners Good City, The Chicago Urban League, Pastor Corey Brooks’ Project H.O.O.D., Bethel New Life Church, and Little Village Chamber of Commerce. They plan to make available more than 17,000 hours of entrepreneurial and business-focused educational programming.
  • Bethel New Life has made good progress setting up its Business Innovation and Technology (BIT) Lab working with community partners such as the Museum of Science and Industry. They are planning to open the Lab and launch the first BIT cohort in Q1 of 2018.
  • Blue1647 Since July’s move to the 250,000 sq.ft. Lacuna Lofts in Pilsen, they have added 120 new co-locating members and two membership programs – their Women in Tech Brunch series and their Founder Workshops. Blue1647 has secured new partnerships with Apple, Google, Uptake, and Blaze Pizza. The Apple partnership includes a special four-week series at the new Apple Michigan Avenue store.
  • Bunker Labs has been engaged in a multi-platform online campaign called “Step Forward,” which aims to have 1,000+ veterans, spouses, and active duty service members sign up for their Launch Lab Online program. Since the Blackstone grant was awarded, Bunker Labs has secured two additional grants totaling $135,000. Plans are also underway to launch their 2018 CEOcircle program in February.
  • Future Founders just announced the cohort of their new Future Founders Residency program. The Residency is an innovative, six-month pilot program designed to empower diverse millennials to launch and grow businesses in Chicago. Fifteen companies are participating in industries ranging from tech to arts, sports, education, health, and others. Representatives from many of the other organizations in the BXC cohort participated in the selection process of The Residency companies.
  • i.c.stars began recruiting for their Enterprise Next program and held the Launch Event in August. They started Lean Startup training in September, including a one-day boot camp followed by three months of weekly training, culminating in a Pitch Night on December 11.
  • UI LABS BX Challenge program is a partnership between UI LABS’ City Digital and Colony 5. The first quarter was focused on collaborating with community partners to identify target entrepreneurs, developing a shared curriculum online, hosting meetups at UI LABS, establishing relations between City entities and corporate partners and solidifying a “Go to Market” model for entrepreneurs.
  • WBDC is currently recruiting entrepreneurs for their ScaleUp Rogers Park and South Chicago Cohorts which will begin in January. They are working with a developer to build their mobile application. Since the Blackstone grant was awarded, WBDC has secured $75,000 in additional funding.

Save the date for Foundation Day on May 16th, 2018. The flagship event of the BX Challenge will bring together foundations from across the country for an opportunity to showcase success stories of the  entrepreneurs that the cohort serves.

For more information, visit blackstonechallenge.org or follow the Blackstone Blog.

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