Entrepreneur, John Henry doesn't see challenges rather, he views obstacles as opportunities. He also believes in improving economic opportunity for all. Earlier this year, John Henry, along with his Cofound Harlem co-founders decided to take on Harlem--can't be done Harlem naysayers that is--by launching a 9-month accelerator program with the aim of bringing 100 new businesses to Harlem over five years. Cofound Harlem provides participating startups with resources, mentors and free office. It does not take an equity stake in the participating companies but the startups must commit to remaining in Harlem for at least four years.
The big goal of Cofound Harlem is to grow the entrepreneurial eco-system in Harlem.
Delivering on the promise of technology also needs money, so the next opportunity John Henry's acting on is to raise a venture capital fund. It would be Harlem's first. The fund will invest in the Harlem ecosystem with a focus on startups launched by minorities, women and veterans. Cofound Harlem will remain a mission-driven, non-profit accelerator and the fund (which John Henry hopes to raise almost exclusively from successful black entrepreneurs), will invest in companies going through the accelerator program.
With one Cofound cohort under his belt and the fundraising underway, John Henry stopped to reflect on the 2015 entrepreneurship trends he's witnessed as the founder of a mission driven venture:
I'm finding more and more people from all over the spectrum are paying attention to 'Social Impact'; this idea that you can do well, and do good at the same time. Being at the forefront of social innovation has brought me from everywhere to the World Bank in DC to presenting to the government of Aruba; and sit-downs with everyone from Colin Powell to powerful real estate families. I find high-caliber minds are more intrigued not just in startups - but using startups as an engine to make meaningful change.
Diversity, diversity, diversity. It's definitely been the buzzword of the year in the New York City tech community (again). Personally, I've moderated a good number of discussions on diversity for everyone from Columbia University, to TekServe - and have spoken with great VC's about it publicly at our Uptown Tech Meetup. In general, people are finding the word diversity is less meaningful than the word inclusion. It's becoming more and more evident than having minority and female founders not only makes for better, more comprehensive decision-making - it makes good business sense. As per First Round Capital's 10-year findings: founding teams with females performed 63% better.
I'm also excited by the maturation of the New York City tech ecosystem. More successful companies are showing the way for younger ones; in terms of thinking and execution, as well as role models and mentorship - it's making way for some really bright founders who have a lot to say and want to create purpose-driven companies.
I'm excited by the fresh approaches to acceleration and supporting entrepreneurs--not just because I'm the co-founder of one! There's Grand Central Tech Accelerator in midtown Manhattan. There's an accelerator/fund out in Washington, DC called Village Capital that has a really refined system that seems to be working really well for them investing in social impact. Then there is the phenomenal job-placement program Coalition for Queens (that just raised $1.75MM), which brings more diverse talent with unique skillsets and problem-solving approaches into the startup ecosystem.
By far I'm most excited about the momentum social impact has achieved in 2015. I think more and more startups are focused on solving meaningful problems. Investors are really beginning to understand the importance of double bottom lines... so not just money, but positive social returns as well. It seems more and more unique business models are challenging what has been previously been the business-as-usual norm.