Basic Information

What is the name of your organization?

Entrepreneurship Award Corp. dba Founder Forward

Is your organization registered as 501(c)(3) status with the IRS?


In what city, town, or region and state is your organization headquartered?

New York, New York, USA

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address? [Select up to 2]

  • Business development & procurement: Connecting small business owners to vendors, suppliers, and networks that will transform their ability to do business.
  • Data and impact: Capturing, synthesizing, optimizing, and/or displaying data for business intelligence, impact evaluation, and/or improved decision making for resource allocation.

What is the name of your solution?

The Founder Forward Platform

What is your solution?

The Founder Forward model was developed following a 2019 SXSW solution session, where founders shared that they struggled with access to unrestricted capital, mentorship, community, and storytelling. Our partnership model connects early-stage BIPOC founders to six-week business advising sessions with professional advisors who support the founders in solving an urgent business need. The founders not only gain access to advising, but also receive a minimum of $5k in unrestricted capital, access to a community of founders, and amplification of their stories. 

The Founder Forward platform began as a tech-enabled platform where advisors and founders scheduled time for advising sessions, reviewed pitch decks, and interacted with founder profiles. Currently, we are building on the lessons learned from our 1.0 platform and piloting a marketplace solution for impact investing in early-stage diverse founders. Our key stakeholders are advisors, founders, and investors who engage on the platform via a B2B, investment, and advising marketplace. This marketplace forms a network between the stakeholders which include interactive profiles, communication, storytelling, and community. The marketplace is powered by research, Wendal Ai technology, and an investment pipeline. Our marketplace solution provides pathways for founders to access impact investing and a pipeline to pre-seed funding. 

The Founder Forward marketplace solution pilot is being developed using and integrating third-party applications and automation into our Squarespace website using Wendal Ai for sourcing, matching, and access to venture capital; Circle for community, advising, communication, storytelling, and scheduling; and Monday and market research for data collection, analysis, and impact tracking. 

Film your elevator pitch.

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Early-stage founders from non-dominant markets are often overlooked in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. These are founders who have a viable product or service and an investment of $5k to $15k, business advising, and a community could change the trajectory of their founder journey. Founders who receive mentorship are more likely to survive than those who do not. Our legacy platform manually connected founders to advisors and funding opportunities, but over time we realized the need for a central place for founders to schedule, engage, and receive funding. We decided to build a solution that automates processes and frees our team to engage more directly with founders and investors, while also creating a central location for market networks to emerge. 

The Founder Forward marketplace solution uses and integrates third-party applications and automation into our Squarespace website using Wendal Ai for sourcing, matching, and access to venture capital; Circle for community, advising, communication, storytelling, and scheduling; and Monday and market research for data collection, analysis, and impact tracking.   

Wendal Ai is a proprietary technology that uses behavioral assessments to provide better understanding of a founder, their business, and their team. Our marketplace solution will use this technology to collect data and vet founders, advisors, and investors. The platform removes the need for an analyst to research and source the appropriate founders for our programming. The advanced backend automation supports matching and connecting the right groups together, creating an interactive network for investors, advisors, and founders. Wendal Ai is currently onboarding venture capitalists onto the technology, providing the opportunity for our founders to access an investment pipeline, with the opportunity to connect to venture capitalists who may provide seed-funding. 

We are using Circle, a community platform to create a network where our founders can connect to advisors, investors, and other founders. Circle has the capability to host live events, discussions, directories, learning materials, and more. The Circle platform has the capability to automate processes and integrate with platforms to enhance the community experience. The platform provides a central location for our founders, investors, and advisors to communicate and engage, while allowing us to set up a public facing directory for increasing the reach of our founders' stories. 

Our partners have conducted market research that validates the need for a platform that supports diverse founders in accessing funding and community. We are using this research along with the work management tool Monday, to design, collect, and analyze our data. We want to ensure that the solutions we develop are driven by research and our founder’s needs. 

Our marketplace solution allows us to coordinate across teams and partners. Our goal is to modernize and update our current platform with software solutions that are intuitive and that prioritize the user experience; aligning functionality with modern UX/UI for a fully interactive investing and advising experience. Compared to the limited functionality of our legacy platform, this upgrade has the ability to revolutionize the way we connect with founders.

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning
  • Software and Mobile Applications

Who does your solution serve, including demographics, and how does the solution impact their lives?

To understand our founder’s needs, we have maintained a census that incorporates the responses of 457 founders and 171 employee volunteers who completed the program. The 40+ questions help us understand strengths, business challenges, and social impact areas. Because success looks different for each founder, we take a non-prescriptive approach of tailoring goals based on self-identified challenges. As we continue to improve our solution, our founders and partners are included in every step of our process. We are constantly collecting feedback through surveys, focus groups, and UX/UI testing. The feedback we have received confirms the ecosystem trend of concentrated funding which contributes to geographic inequality and decreases economic opportunities. We believe challenging the economic injustice of systemic geographic inequalities, funding disparities, and lack of access to information begins with empowering founders in overlooked communities. Our marketplace solution serves as a place for our founders to thrive. 

Through our marketplace solution we are providing unrestricted funding, access to resources, and community connections to founders accepted into our programs. Three groups are influenced by our programming: founders, partners (corporations/foundations), and partner’s employees. We primarily engage with early-stage Black, Latinx, and Indigenous founders who are creating social impact driven solutions. Our typical beneficiary is in the startup or growth stage, has earned under $250,000 in revenue, and has clearly defined challenges in their processes and operations. Geographically, we target the “mighty middle,” communities that have a thriving entrepreneurial base, but lack the attention and resources of the more dominant startup markets. These communities generally have median household incomes under $55,000. The demographics of our alumni to date are 75% Black, 15% Latinx, 10% Indigenous, and 58% women.

Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

We challenge the financial system and the venture capital industry which equates successful market segments as those running technology startups in California, Texas, Boston, or New York. The devaluing of education, lack of bank access, low investment rates of BIPOC founders, and the rise in consolidated companies are some trends signaling the United States’ economic system needs to change to remain an innovative competitor. Current investment models are reinforcing loops resulting in breakdowns of innovation because of lack of diversification. To change the system, the concentration of economic power needs to be broken by slowing the consolidation of companies and investing in early-stage BIPOC founders who are operating in overlooked regions. 

Beyond founder’s needing to access business development and procurement opportunities to increase survival rates, data driven narrative change is needed to shift power. The Founder Forward Platform, is a financial inclusion marketplace solution addressing the lack of business development, procurement, and research on diverse founders in non-dominant markets. Through the platform, founders receive unrestricted working capital and tailored guidance on urgent challenges, strengthening their business acumen, internal processes, and rates of survival. The marketplace serves as an investment pathway for founders who have access to a consortium of investors seeking to make strategic investments. The platform has the potential for founders to take investment funds and collectively determine resource allocation within the founder community. The data collected and the stories told on the platform will play a role in shifting the narrative of founders operating in overlooked regions.

What is your theory of change?

Our theory of change is based on racial economic equality research by the Roosevelt Institute (2020), illustrating the importance of combating the root causes of the racial wealth gap, entrepreneurial ecosystems research by Malecki (2018), Spigel (2016), and Mack (2016), illustrating the importance of the founder at the center of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and research by NfX (2019), illustrating the importance of market networks powered by technology. Our theory of change is based on qualitative research on our founders and professional advisors, demonstrating a need for a marketplace. Our qualitative research is supported by quantitative financial inclusion research done by our partners.

We envision distributed power in the United States’ economic system, supporting the full and just economic participation of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous founders. Our theory of change is that if entrepreneurial ecosystem players connect to dismantle silos in capital, networks, advising, data, and narratives, then distributed power in economic systems can be achieved for founders operating in overlooked regions. Advising sessions, messaging, webinars, B2B opportunities, data collection, storytelling are the activities occurring on the Founder Forward Platform. Our activities will continuously provide annual outputs of 100 founders connecting to a flow of 80 advisors, 20 investors, and $500k in unrestricted capital.

Our platform activities result in three key founder outcomes: (1) confidence to make the business decisions needed to grow a thriving business, acquire resources, and create social impact in their entrepreneurial ecosystems, (2) encouraged to build connections with our founder and partner network, (3) confidence to serve as leaders by fostering conversations with policymakers and congressional offices to advocate for full economic participation.

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Pilot: a product, service, or business model that is in the process of being built and tested with a small number of beneficiaries or working to gain traction.

What is your organization’s stage of development?

Growth: A registered 501(c)(3) organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth and has a proven track record with an annual operating budget
More About Your Solution

How many small businesses does your solution currently serve?

The Founder Forward legacy platform currently hosts 136 founders. We will onboard those same 136 founders onto the pilot platform with hopes that by the end of year one, we can onboard 400 founders who have applied to our programs, but did not get accepted. This would bring the number of founders on the platform to about 500 by 2024. If we continue to host 10 to 12 cohorts a year for the next five years and onboard other founders to the network, we should serve about 2000 founders. These numbers are of our founders, if we include advisors and investors: currently, we would onboard 100 advisors and investors, by 2024, we would onboard 200 advisors, and within five years we would have about 400 advisors and investors on the platform.

How do you define the community you serve, and who are its stakeholders?

Founder Forward’s organizational strategy is driven by the research and experiences of our board and executive leadership and informed by our founder community’s experiences. We primarily engage with early-stage Black, Latinx, and Indigenous founders who are creating social impact driven solutions and making less than $250k in revenue. The founders we serve, represent the “mighty middle” –  those who are underrecognized, underfunded, and operate in overlooked regions. Additionally, we continue engagement with those founders who are not placed into our cohorts. Our private and public sector partners provide support nationally and we connect with local partners in 10 cities who provide ancillary support. We build relationships with entrepreneurial support organizations, accelerators, congressional offices, and more. Our key partners include: The University of Maryland’s Center for Community Engagement Environmental Justice and Health, Deloitte, Render Capital, PwC, Prudential Cares, the Surdna Foundation, the NBA, and FISLL.

How do you build trust within the community your organization serves and among small business owners?

One of our organizational values is founder first. We place the founders at the center of all of our activities. Taking this approach builds trust and allows us to develop non-prescriptive solutions  based on the needs of our founders. We believe that the founder knows their needs best, and we serve more as a connector and facilitator for the founders. We build trust by having frequent touch points with our founders, surveying our founders, visiting founders businesses, and procuring founder products for our office. We use social networks, our newsletter, and our website as tools for communicating trends, insights, and news to our founders. We find that meeting our founders where they are and listening to their needs allows us to better engage with them.

What are your impact goals for the current year and the next five years and how will you achieve them?

Over the next five years, we have three main founder impact outcomes: (1) confidence to make the business decisions needed to grow a thriving business, acquire resources, and create social impact in their entrepreneurial ecosystems, (2) encouraged to build connections with our founder and partner network, (3) confidence to serve as leaders by fostering conversations with policymakers and congressional offices. 

Over the next year, we will run 10 cohort advising sessions for 40 founders who will collectively receive $200k. We will host a B2B event on the platform resulting in 75% of our founders receiving contracts. Over the next year, 25% of our founders will enter a pre-seed funding pathway. We will be the go-to platform for advisers and investors looking to support early-stage founders. Over the next five years, we will onboard over 2000 founders onto our platform with over 50% of them receiving a $10k average capital grant and pro-bono advising. Founders in the high-growth pathway will gain skills needed to raise on average $100k in pre-seed funding. We will host and curate learning resources on the platform along with fireside chats with policymakers.

Through the growth and scale of the Founder Forward Platform and working with partners we will achieve our outcomes of having founders that impact their local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Founders who onboard onto the platform will increase their business survival chances by receiving expert advising, gaining the skills needed to grow revenue and gain assets.

Partnership & Award Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Truist Foundation Inspire Awards?

As an organization, we are in the growth stage, having worked across ten U.S. cities and supported over 136 founders. Our partnership model is ready to scale and we are using a pilot stage marketplace solution to support our scaling. Our platform has the potential to impact thousands of early-stage entrepreneurs, providing them access to capital, conversations, and community. We have done great leg work and a partnership with the Truist Foundation and MIT Solve would provide us with the boost needed to take this solution to the next level. 

Founders are at the center of our work and the center of entrepreneurial ecosystems. We believe that their stories need to be amplified and shared widely to highlight the social impact they are making in their communities. A partnership with the Truist Foundation and MIT Solve would provide us access to support in developing a marketing strategy for the platform, while supporting telling the founder's stories. We currently are developing our platform using third-party integrations and applications, but having access to technical support from the Truist Foundation and MIT Solve team of consultants would support our need for further developing the platform model and determining how to move it from pilot to growth. Finally, we have collected a lot of data over the years on the state of early-stage BIPOC founders. We could use assistance in modifying our data collection approach, evaluating our questions from a DEI lens, and measuring the long-term impact of our work.

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and national media)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design, data analysis, etc.)

Please explain in more detail here.

If we are chosen to participate in the semi-finalist round, we would like to use the technical support given to work on several deliverables. As we source founders, we will need to onboard partners and investors to the platform. It is important to have a deck and web page that demonstrates the market need and value of the platform. The partnership would provide us with access to public relation experts who are skilled at marketing technology platforms. As we continue to refine our data collection process, we would like to release a report on the state of early-stage BIPOC founders in overlooked regions. This report will allow us to demonstrate the impact we have seen and a partnership would provide us with analysis support. To achieve these goals, we would need one to one advising, access to learning materials, and access to a community of other organizations who are developing platforms. A partnership with the Truist Foundation and MIT Solve would open the doors for us to connect with a community of organizations who are developing innovative solutions for small businesses.

Solution Team

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