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Recent donations reveal important roles served by foundations in TBED

October 27, 2021
By: Mark Skinner

Foundations, in almost all of their stripes, represent an underutilized but often willing partner to encourage regional innovation. Relationships may take time to nurture, but the resulting collaborations can be of critical importance for advancing your local TBED agenda. To spur your thinking, the six examples below from the past three weeks alone show the various ways foundations are stepping up to help support regional innovation and entrepreneurship. On the principal or endowment management side of a foundation, they can be and have been willing partners for seeding or co-investors in a local early stage equity capital fund.

While the number of U.S. universities and colleges offering entrepreneurship support services to their students, staff and faculty number in the hundreds, few of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) can report the same level of offerings. It isn’t for a lack of opportunities, but rather financing. A recent PNC Foundation gift to Howard University is one step to correct that.  The bank’s foundation provided the D.C.-based institution a five-year $16.8 million grant to create the Howard University and PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship. Rather than being focused on the entrepreneurship opportunities of Howard’s students and faculty, the center, according to a university press release, will be designed to serve the nation’s network of 101 HBCUs and their communities. The grant also will support four regional hubs at Howard University, Morgan State University, Clark Atlanta University and Texas Southern University, each leading one of four regions to allow for effective coordination of programs and activities across all HBCUs.   

Johns Hopkins University received a $43 million donation over three years in the form of a partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies to form a center for civic innovations at the Baltimore-based university. The Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation hopes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local government through five broad practice areas: innovation, digital, community engagement, communications, and academic research. Grants to local governments, technical assistance, fellowships and research collaborations and consulting are expected to be included in the portfolio of services and resources offered by the new center.

On the “more modest in size but large on the local ground” level, the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne in Indiana and the Don Wood Foundation provided funding to begin implementation of a 10-year plan to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation in northeast Indiana, entitled the Greater Fort Wayne Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Strategy. Start Fort Wayne, a new co-work facility, presents the kick off investment for the plan.

Applied research, new technology development and career training are equally important for advancing regional innovation systems. To support these goals in northeastern Ohio, the Timken Foundation is providing the University of Akron a $3 million grant to build a home for the institution’s national precision manufacturing center, launched last spring. According to the university, the newly-funded 15,800 square foot facility will house industrial testing and robotic equipment as well as a centerless grinding machine and additional faculty office space.

A $15.5 million donation from the Harold Alfond Foundation is a critical piece of a new $60 million workforce training program expansion underway in Maine’s community college system. A number of degree programs and certification programs will now be available for no or low costs to more than 24,000 Maine residents over four years through a new virtual network of courses and programming through the Harold Alfond Center for the Advancement of Maine Workers. The Alfond Foundation’s funding follows on the successful outcomes seen from a three-year, $3.6 million donation it made in 2018. Additional funds for the new virtual initiative are provided by the state’s federal COVID stimulus/relief funds ($35 million) and $10 million in private sector matching contributions.

With its $10.3 million grant, the Harvest Foundation made a commitment to fund a community college education experience for every high school student graduating in Martinsville-Henry County, Virginia, for the next 13 years. The funds were provided to the SEED fund, which supports full scholarships to area students to attend the Patrick & Henry Community College. Launched in 2017, SEED Fund scholarships have required a community service element along with the student’s educational commitment: however, the pandemic has required a suspension of the service component.

tbed, foundations