In Baltimore, a group of entrepreneurs are working to grow businesses and nonprofits aimed at helping the city’s disinvested communities. At the same time, a growing wave of socially conscious funders are looking to support such efforts and back women and BIPOC entrepreneurs.
Members of those two groups came face-to-face (virtually) at an investor showcase organized this month by social entrepreneurship network Innovation Works.
The Sept. 10 event offered a chance for rising social entrepreneurs to pitch to Ignite Capital, the $4 million fund launched last year by Innovation Works. Ignite Capital has an investment committee that guides its path and funding decisions. It also has a co-investor network that backs companies alongside the fund.
“Ignite Capital is designed to meet the unique funding needs of each entrepreneur by providing first-in patient capital that attracts additional dollars from socially-conscious investors within the growing co-investor network,” said Jay Nwachu, CEO of Innovation Works and president of Ignite Capital.
Launched in 2020, the fund approved $375,000 in its first year of operation to companies including Parity, Lifting Labels, Learning How! and Infinite Focus Schools. Some companies received multiple investments to provide working capital, while others were able to close larger rounds of funding. In all, the companies raised another $640,000 through its co-investor network. For another group of entrepreneurs, it provided $38,000 in microgrants.
The idea is that the network’s programming serves as a continuum: Innovation Works has accelerator and other support that helps to mentor entrepreneurs and to address risk involved with their businesses. Innovation Works has about 100 individuals active at any given time. If it’s determined that seeking an investment, loan or other type of capital is the best way to go forward, they then get an opportunity to present to Ignite Capital and its co-investor network.
That latter piece of cycle was on display at the showcase event, providing a platform for those companies to seek opportunity. Down the line, they might receive investment.
Global Air Drone Academy was one such org that pitched at the event. The nonprofit provides free STEM courses to students from underrepresented groups through after school programs, summer camps, online drone camps and hackathons.
“Everyone loves drones so we use them as a carrot to teach skills that are in high demand like coding and 3D printing,” said cofounder Austin Brown.
For Jazmine Davis, the shoe line Jazmine Kionna is producing high-heeled shoes that emphasize “performance, comfort and sustainability.” She created shoes that are made with vegan leather in Portugal.
Davis dreamed of being a fashion designer, but also developed scientific acumen. On a trip to Chicago where she tried on uncomfortable heels, she hit on a passion to make shoes that were stylish, yet comfortable to wear.
“That’s when I realized I can merge my love for fashion and science,” she said during the event.
Check out additional companies that pitched:
- Baltimore Job Hunters Support Group, led by Janet Glover-Kerkvliet, empowers older and underrepresented job seekers with long-term unemployment via strategies and support networks.
- SpreadKarma, founded by Kellie Brown, is a social crowdfunding platform supporting social entrepreneurs. (Count that as another funding source for these companies.)
- Art With A Heart, led by founder Randi Pupkin, runs classes and workforce development programs with the goal of enhancing lives through visual art.
- Breathe4Sure, founded by Maisha McCoy, is an independent pharmacy in the Harlem Park neighborhood that works provide quality care and wellness resources in disinvested neighborhoods.
- Generations Family Services, led by executive director Patricia L. Thompson, provides low-cost counseling and support services to people who are under-insured or have no insurance.
- More Watter Co., founded by Anthony Watters Jr., offers program development, workshops and workouts that emphasize water and exercise as keys to healthy lifestyles and communities.