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Q & A with Amy Stursberg, Executive Director, The Blackstone Charitable Foundation

01/31/2011

Q: Why has The Blackstone Charitable Foundation chosen entrepreneurship as its primary area for support?

A: The Foundation was created in 2007 by employees of The Blackstone Group to support communities around the world, particularly in areas where we live and work. When the global economic crisis hit, we determined we would have the greatest impact by applying our resources and expertise to programs that aim to stimulate the economy and create jobs. Influenced by the enterprising heritage of the firm and its founders, The Blackstone Charitable Foundation has pledged $50 million to fostering entrepreneurship around the world.

Blackstone has a unique perspective on the global economy and a heightened understanding of how entrepreneurial activity is often the crucial catalyst in the growth of successful businesses, industries and communities. This is supported by the evidence -- two-thirds of all jobs created over the past 20 years were in firms less than five years old.

Q: With so many ideas out there, how does the Foundation set priorities within the entrepreneurship initiative?

A: After extensive research and conversations with leading authorities around the country, we determined the most significant missing links were in connecting emerging entrepreneurs with experienced entrepreneurs and in creating integrated ecosystems of support that nurture start-ups. The Foundation has chosen to focus on funding organizations that are trying to fix these broken links.

Q: Why did you join the White House initiative “Startup America”?

A: We were very encouraged by the commitment of the White House to accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation. Creating this alliance of the most active private sector institutions in entrepreneurship will help the country more quickly and effectively reach the goal of sustainable economic growth and job creation. Bringing together these resources in a unified way will generate greater support and appreciation for the goal of restoring the United States’ spirit of innovation.

Q: Why Blackstone LaunchPad? What are the reasons this was such an important first area for support?

A:  We know that entrepreneurship is critical to job creation and economic growth, and the need for a new generation of entrepreneurs is an urgent one. Yet few young people encounter entrepreneurship or understand it as a viable career path. What we found at the University of Miami Launch Pad was successful and incredibly exciting, and we believe it can transform higher education and have meaningful long-term economic impact. We provided the funding to bring this model to Southeast Michigan, a region critically in need of economic resurgence. Blackstone LaunchPad began operating this past fall at Wayne State University and Walsh College and the response has been extremely positive. We are pleased to announce as part of the White House “Startup America” initiative that the Foundation will be expanding Blackstone LaunchPads to five new regions in the next five years to bring this program to other regions struggling with severe unemployment but filled with people with promising ideas and the enthusiasm to build new businesses.

Q: With the need so great throughout the country, how will you decide which regions to bring a new Blackstone LaunchPad to?

A: There is great need in so many parts of the United States but we are currently focused on those geographic areas hardest hit by the economic downturn, with an active entrepreneurship community ready to move a to greater level of activity, with universities that have the culture and leadership to support entrepreneurship and the capacity to build linkages to the business community with a strong local partner to help manage the project. There are many regions that fit these criteria and we look forward to talking with them about bringing Blackstone LaunchPad to their communities.

Q: How involved is the leadership at Blackstone in advancing the entrepreneurship initiative?

A: This initiative has been advanced and supported by the very top leadership at Blackstone. Senior management is very involved in determining the direction of the Foundation and plays an active part in assessing all of our commitments and the decisions for support that we make.  We all want very much to engage Blackstone employees and those of the portfolio companies around the world.

Q: What is the future direction of the Foundation?

A: We want to stimulate entrepreneurship that builds promising businesses and sustainable job growth. In addition to bringing Blackstone LaunchPad to universities in other distressed regions over the next five years, we expect to announce in the next few months large-scale regional initiatives that spur innovation, business development and job growth. The programs will create strong, integrated networks that bring together intellectual capital of our universities with non-profits active in entrepreneurship services, which then join forces with investors and government officials who want to help nurture start-ups and sustainable jobs. These stronger ecosystems will translate innovations from lab to marketplace and bring significant secondary economic benefits to local communities.

We are incredibly optimistic about the future of The Blackstone Charitable Foundation and the many innovative and value-creating programs we will support.

 

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