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Mayor Lightfoot, World Business Chicago, and Blackstone Charitable Foundation Announce Additional Support for Three Local Non-Profits Driving Inclusive Entrepreneurship In Chicago


Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot joined World Business Chicago and the Blackstone Charitable Foundation to announce that the Foundation will provide $300,000 in additional funding to West Side Forward, Future Founders, and Bunker Labs, grantees of the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge, to continue programming and overcome challenges presented by the pandemic.

Launched in 2017, the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge is a three-year, $3 million initiative funding local nonprofits that support underserved and underrepresented entrepreneurs throughout Chicago. To date, the program has funded and supported the work of eight organizations that work with women, communities of color, military veterans and diverse young people, with an eye towards regional and national impact. This support has led to the formation of 61 companies, created 227 jobs, and engaged over 8,000 entrepreneurs through more than 6,000 workshops.

“The Blackstone Challenge has been an incredible driver of meaningful, inclusive growth in Chicago,” Mayor Lightfoot said. “We are grateful for the additional funding as we know this will be critically important for the grantees to reimagine ways in which they can continue to support our city’s tech entrepreneurs in underserved communities.”

West Side Forward, Future Founders, and Bunker Labs will each receive an additional $100,000 from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, beyond each organization’s initial grant, to continue their programs supporting entrepreneur populations. The funding will specifically support:

  • Westside Forward will provide online support to help minority-owned small businesses in Chicago’s west side neighborhoods access funding and other resources to help aid their reopening and recovery. Westside Forward has used Blackstone Challenge funding to create the Business and Technology Entrepreneurship program, which has engaged almost 200 participants and provided mentorship to nearly 300 participants through over 500 coaching sessions, propelling close to 200 businesses in their growth and development plans. This strong presence in the city’s West Side has played a huge role in the early days of the pandemic. In the first two months of sheltering in place, Westside Forward held over 400 counseling appointments, providing critical support to existing businesses during uncertain times.
  • Future Founders will use the funding to develop an online curriculum for an existing program that supports 20,000 Chicago public school students to learn about entrepreneurship while their regular classrooms remain closed. Participants include students from 14 Chicago schools: Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, Chicago Math & Science Academy, Chicago Tech Academy, Epic Academy Charter High School, Eric Solorio Academy High School, George Westinghouse College Prep, Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, Johnson College Prep, Muchin College Prep, Perspectives Charter School Joslin Campus, The Noble Academy, Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, Whitney Young High School, and William Howard Taft High School.
  • Bunker Labs is providing a complete range of online support to small business ventures of veterans and their spouses. The launch of Bunker Online will provide a hub to connect peers, mentors, job opportunities, partner organizations and more based on a variety of industry, geographic, business stage, or other characteristics. The Bunker Labs #All In campaign aims to provide resources and connections to experts to help participants navigate their business through challenges caused by COVID-19.

“We are proud to expand our support for these best-in-class organizations that are providing underrepresented and under-resourced entrepreneurs with additional opportunities to succeed and thrive,” said Amy Stursberg, Executive Director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

“When it comes to driving inclusive growth of our tech economy, the Blackstone Challenge has truly been a catalyst to expand entrepreneurial opportunities,” said Andrea L. Zopp, President & CEO of World Business Chicago. “Today, as we face unprecedented challenges, it’s important to see that the program continue in ways that positively contribute to our city’s economic recovery.”

“The Blackstone Challenge mobilized the Chicago tech community to support the inclusive entrepreneurship programming led by these grantees,” said Mark Tebbe, Chair of ChicagoNEXT at World Business Chicago. “The grantees strengthened and empowered entrepreneurs to start and scale their startups right here in Chicago and provided them the resources they need to succeed.”

The additional funding is sourced from existing Blackstone Challenge funds. The Blackstone Inclusive Challenge was launched in July 2017 as a pioneering effort in the City to promote equal access to resources for entrepreneurs and innovators across Chicago. Funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, the program has been administered by the ChicagoNEXT initiative at World Business Chicago.


About Blackstone Charitable Foundation
Founded in 2007, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation creates programs that enhance entrepreneurial ecosystems. By leveraging the resources and intellectual capital of Blackstone, we empower entrepreneurs, create an environment where careers can flourish and support the communities in which we live and work. For more information, go to

About World Business Chicago

World Business Chicago (WBC) is a public-private, non-profit partnership that drives inclusive economic growth and job creation, supports business, and promotes Chicago as a leading global city. Launched in 2012 and supported by a council of 200+ tech community leaders, ChicagoNEXT is WBC’s dedicated initiative to drive inclusive growth and opportunity for Chicago’s technology and innovation ecosystem. Their portfolio of programs includes ThinkChicago, the Chicago Venture Summit and the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge.

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