Sep 14, 2021

Eight Social Entrepreneurs Raising Capital to Build Businesses that Uplift Baltimore Neighborhoods

image of a man in a blue shirt in front of a seated group of people holding a laptop speaking
Press Release

Innovation Works & Ignite Capital’s Investor Showcase helps entrepreneurs pitch investment opportunities to socially-conscious investors

Innovation Works, a resource network connecting under-resourced Baltimore neighborhoods, entrepreneurs, social innovation assets and investors to build sustainable neighborhood economies, held its second annual Investor Showcase last week.

The Sept. 10 event featured eight rising social entrepreneurs working to launch or grow businesses that help create a better future for Baltimore’s low-income communities and communities of color. The entrepreneurs pitched their investment opportunities to Ignite Capital, a $4 million social impact fund launched last year by Innovation Works, and Ignite Capital’s Co-Investor Network, composed of individuals, companies and foundations.

Potential investors heard pitches from entrepreneurs like Austin Brown, a cofounder of Global Air Drone Academy, a non-profit promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for underrepresented groups. Brown’s non-profit leverages corporate sponsorships to provide free drone courses that inspire underrepresented students to pursue careers in STEM fields.

“Everyone loves drones so we use them as a carrot to teach skills that are in high demand like coding and 3-D printing through after school programs, summer camps, online drone camps, hackathons,” Brown said.

Brown hopes to raise $350,000 over two years in order to provide 537 programs to nearly 8,000 students between 2021-2024.

Another social enterprise pitched to investors was Baltimore Job Hunters Support Group, which empowers older and underrepresented job seekers experiencing the trauma of long-term unemployment with action-oriented strategies and supportive networks.

“BJHSG seeks $300,000 of start-up funding over a two-year period to decrease our dependence on grant funding and transition to a profitable and scalable operation,” said BJHSG Director Janet Glover-Kerkvliet.

Other enterprises that presented to investors, included:

  • SpreadKarma, a social, volunteering, and crowdfunding platform focused on advancing underserved communities around the globe

  • Art With A Heart, which works to enhance the lives of people in need through visual art

  • Breathe4Sure, an independent pharmacy in the Harlem Park neighborhood that works to normalize quality pharmaceutical care and wellness resources for marginalized neighborhoods

  • Generations Family Services, which provides support services to promote individual, family and community well-being and safety

  • Jazmine Kionna, which sells luxury, contemporary shoes that are trendy, chic, and most importantly, comfortable.

  • More Watter Co., a health and wellness lifestyle company that uses water, exercise, and culture to build and sustain healthier lifestyles, families, and communities.

Innovation Works provided a robust support system to mentor these social entrepreneurs, helping them mitigate risk, and perceived risk, before presenting to Ignite Capital and its Co-Investor Network.

“Ignite Capital and Innovation Works is a unique, joint program that provides technical assistance and mentoring and then creates a funding opportunity for entrepreneurs to use what they have learned,” said Ignite Capital President Jay Nwachu. “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.”

The first showcase was held in May 2020 and featured several businesses now receiving investment funding from Ignite Capital, including ParityLifting LabelsLearning How!, and Infinite Focus Schools. The fund approved $375,000 in investments in its first year of operation, along with an additional $640,000 raised through the co-investor network.

Among other goals, Innovation Works is working to help launch and grow 250 social enterprises, create 5,000 jobs, and attract $100 million to Baltimore neighbor economies by 2029.