Chicago Organizations Get Support from the Blackstone Challenge


Blackstone Report is Available and Makes Recommendations for Inclusive Entrepreneurship


The Blackstone Charitable Foundation, in partnership with ChicagoNEXT, an initiative of World Business Chicago (WBC), recently published the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge Report, “Driving Inclusive Urban Entrepreneurial Ecosystems as a result of the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge in Chicago (Blackstone Challenge). Made possible by JPMorgan Chase through its Small Business Forward Initiative and as part of its $40 million commitment to creating economic opportunity on Chicago’s South and West sides, the report provides insights from the first year of the Blackstone Challenge and makes recommendations for catalyzing inclusive entrepreneurship.

The Blackstone Challenge began in June 2017 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jon Gray, President and Chief Operating Officer of Blackstone, announced the eight organizations that were awarded one-year grants, totaling $1 million in grant funding for pilot programs that recruited and engaged diverse and underserved entrepreneurs throughout Chicago. Throughout the first year, over 13,000 aspiring entrepreneurs participated in more than 800 courses, workshops, and programs hosted by the cohort of organizations to meet this goal.

In its second phase, the Blackstone Challenge boosted funding to three Chicago organizations that demonstrated the most effective and sustainable programs, with an eye toward regional and national impact in inclusive entrepreneurship. Bethel New Life, Bunker Labs, and Future Founders were awarded another $1.7 million as part of the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge in 2018.

“The Blackstone Charitable Foundation has supported new company formation and job creation by investing in entrepreneurship globally. We’ve made it our mission to support underrepresented entrepreneurs across the U.S. and are excited to report on the momentum in Chicago from the first two years of the Blackstone Challenge,” said Jon Gray, President and Chief Operating Officer at Blackstone.

The Blackstone Challenge invested in these organizations over the past two years for their support of entrepreneurship, new ventures, and job creation to ensure underserved entrepreneurs get equal access to Chicago’s growing innovation ecosystem. Additional information on how the three organizations have used the funding can be found below as well as within the full report.

  • Bethel New Life is an organization on Chicago’s West Side whose mission is to transform local communities by using regional resources to employ area-residents in skilled work, thereby decreasing concentrated poverty and improving residents’ collective standard of living. As part of the Blackstone Challenge, Bethel New Life grew its small business development work by building its Business Innovation Technology (BIT) Lab, launching a 90-day BIT Entrepreneurship Course cohort program, and convening a series of BIT workshops for the public. According to data collected by ChicagoNEXT, in the first year of the Blackstone Challenge, Bethel New Life had 77 attendees for its BIT workshops, 13 participants for its BIT entrepreneurship classes, and 20 entrepreneurs that participated in over 100 BIT entrepreneurship coaching sessions.
  • Bunker Labs is a national organization headquartered in Chicago that serves veterans, active duty service members, and their spouses as they seek to start or grow small businesses. Through the Blackstone Challenge, Bunker Labs was able to expand to all fifty states its Launch Lab Online program, which allows Bunker Lab entrepreneurs to remotely access the resources that they need to grow their businesses. Moreover, Blackstone Funding supported Bunker Lab’s CEOcircle, a cohort-based program that provides resources and support to later-stage founders. According to data collected by ChicagoNEXT, in the first year of the Blackstone Challenge, Launch Lab Online has engaged over 520 participants. Approximately 50 entrepreneurs participated in the CEOcircle program, and engaged in over 110 coaching sessions in the last year
  • Future Founders is a Chicago-based organization that empowers youth to become the next generation of entrepreneurs. Through the Blackstone Challenge, Future Founders was able to create the Residency (formerly known as the Chicago Cohort), a program that fosters the development of millennial businesses founded by entrepreneurs of color, women, veterans, and immigrants. The Residency pilot included one-on-one biweekly mentoring by seasoned entrepreneurs and staff, peer-to-peer support, monthly cohort workshops, and an intensive summit. According to data collected by ChicagoNEXT, in the first year of the Blackstone Challenge, the program generated 15 businesses and 19 jobs, and businesses collectively secured over $22,000 in revenue. Future iterations of the Residency will include two components: (1) an entrepreneurship certificate program that trains founders on how to establish and build a business and (2) an invitation-only cohort that provides mentoring, peer-to-peer support, and stipends to help the most intentional founders grow their new businesses.

“As a global tech hub, Chicago is fully committed to growing entrepreneurship and innovation at a local level, as is outlined in the Blackstone Report” said Andrea Zopp, President & CEO of World Business Chicago. “We are proud of the progress the three Chicago organizations have made to drive inclusive growth over the past two years due to the support of The Blackstone Charitable Foundation.”

Share: