Diversity & Inclusion
Entrepreneurs / Philanthropy / Roundups

Meet the social entrepreneurship orgs bringing Silicon Valley resources to local neighborhoods

Innovation Works is teaming with Santa Clara University's Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship to build businesses that improve Baltimore communities.

Inside a 2019 Innovation Works program. (Courtesy photo)
Social enterprises formed in Baltimore neighborhoods can bring new solutions and economic gains to the underinvested communities where they’re based.

Yet the entrepreneurs and people with the ideas looking to build these businesses often don’t have access to the resources within their communities, said longtime entrepreneur and Innovation Works founder and CEO Frank Knott.

Through a new partnership, Baltimore-based Innovation Works is offering programming, mentorship and connections to capital to businesses working to bring social impact as well as profit to Baltimore neighborhoods.

Innovation Works, which was spearheaded with support from the Jesuit community, this week is announcing a strategic partnership with the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University in California. Through programming known as Global Social Benefit Institute, it’s helped to create 1,000 businesses around the world over 15 years.

“The way that we think about what we’re doing at Miller Center is combining the Silicon Valley DNA of entrepreneurship with the Jesuit ethos of serving the poor and connecting the planet,” said Pamela Roussos, chief innovation officer at the Miller Center.

This will be among the first work the center is undertaking in a U.S. city. With Innovation Works, the work can extend to the neighborhood level, Roussos said.

The 10-year goal in Baltimore: creating 250 social enterprises5,000 jobs and attracting $100 million in investment.

A key standout for the program is its mentoring network, Knott said. The organization connects founders of social enterprises with a network of mentors who have built businesses as senior executives, many in Silicon Valley. There will also be a group of local mentors in Baltimore. The entrepreneurs and mentors meet for 2.5 hours a week either virtually or in-person with local mentors, and the relationship extends beyond early stage.

“This program is multi-staged. It follows the entrepreneur from the existence of the idea for a product or service, and works with them month after month, year after year to develop that into a sustainable business,” Knott said.

It also applies a curriculum to guide through that process. The Miller Center’s model helps entrepreneurs quantify impact as well as financial health, so they’re working on side-by-side models that will measure success.

The goal is for the ideas to come directly from the communities, and address their needs. In order to engage the people looking to make change and start a business, Innovation Works is partnering with community organizations already working on the ground, Innovation Works Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nwachu said. It’s already established four partnerships with centers it calls Ignite Hubs in the following neighborhoods, with plans for 30 to 40 more:

  • CreateU, Sandtown-Winchester
  • Open Works, Greenmount West/Johnston Square
  • Penrose/Fayette Street Outreach, Southwest Baltimore
  • Kingdom Life Church, Hilton Street area

With a seven-person team currently working at Open Works, the organization is also looking to work within the community of social enterprise supporters, filling gaps in resources and bringing data.

“We recognize that there are other efforts already in the city for social entrepreneurship. The goal here is that we see ourselves as part of this broader system,” Nwachu said.

The Jesuit community is a key backer, and collaborators include Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, Catholic Charities of Baltimore, Open Works, University of Baltimore School of Business, Baltimore Corps, Think|Stack, Ignatian Volunteer Corps, the Maryland Province of the Jesuits, and the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. 

With Catholic Charities, it is collaborating on Innovation Works Boost, a three-day workshop taking place June 18 to 20. The capacity building workshop will be led by Miller Center and Innovation Works leaders, and aims to help 20 to 30 social entrepreneurs.

“Innovation Works is an exciting new way to identify and engage women and men who want to become entrepreneurs in their own communities. When we empower and mentor those individuals, we help build healthier, happier, more fully employed communities,” said Catholic Charities Executive Director William J. McCarthy Jr.


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