Initiative Supports Minority Startups in Detroit

Over the last nine years, a $100 million fund quietly has been supporting a startup ecosystem for women and minority entrepreneurs in the Detroit region, Forbes reports.

Launched in 2007 by ten foundations — the Ford, Kellogg, Kresge,  Knight, Hudson-Webber, Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher, C.S. Mott, and Skillman foundations; the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan; and the McGregor Fund — the New Economy Initiative differs from other venture funds in that it has focused on inclusive economic development, NEI director Pam Lewis told Forbes. "Traditionally in the high-tech sectors, there's not necessarily any intentionality around including women and people of color," said Lewis. "For us, that was the basis of it."

NEI funds a variety of startup initiatives, from accelerators and business competitions to co-working spaces and aspiring entrepreneurs. Nearly a third of the ventures it has supported are minority and women-owned, and its programs not only help aspiring tech entrepreneurs raise capital, they also provide them with mentorship and a robust network to tap into. According to Lewis, NEI's investments have helped launch sixteen hundred companies to date — 39 percent of which are minority-owned — that have raised $600 million in capital and created seventeen thousand jobs in southeastern Michigan.

Having learned firsthand how crucial early exposure to STEM can be in terms of improving life outcomes for minority youth, Lewis is committed to building inclusive entrepreneurship from the ground up, designing diversity into the region's startup community from day one. And other cities and states can replicate the NEI model, she told Forbes, by supporting high-growth firms that may not be high-tech but are providers of "services for women and people of color that have energy, drive, great ideas" — and by getting philanthropy involved. "Philanthropic organizations can really push the envelope on inclusion."