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Incubating Social Enterprises: Investing in Youth and Technology Literacy

Blue Ridge Foundation New York, founded in 1999 by John A. Griffin, President of Blue Ridge Capital, first tested its model of active support for nonprofit start-ups during early work with iMentor. iMentor sought to address two major problems in underserved communities: the lack of mentors and the lack of technology literacy.

Blue Ridge Foundation New York, founded in 1999 by John A. Griffin, President of Blue Ridge Capital, first tested its model of active support for nonprofit start-ups during early work with iMentor. iMentor sought to address two major problems in underserved communities: the lack of mentors and the lack of technology literacy.

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Today, iMentor improves the lives of 700 young people annually in 30 schools and after school programs from some of NYC’s most underserved and low-income communities through innovative technology-based approaches to youth mentoring and education. Under the leadership of executive director Caroline Kim Oh, the organization uses mentoring to bridge the divide between diverse communities (drawing on corporate volunteers) so that mentees are better equipped with the skills and resources critical for personal, academic, and career success. iMentor’s effectiveness is so acclaimed that it was awarded $2.3 million at the 2007 Gala of 100 Women in Hedge Funds.

Blue Ridge Foundation has incubated 14 start-ups so far, providing each of them with five years of funding totaling $500,000, strategic assistance, a grantee community, and back-office support. The extent of Blue Ridge’s financial investment in each organization makes this model quite unique. According to Matthew Klein, executive director of Blue Ridge, “Just like any new enterprise, nonprofits benefit from having enough early capital to prove their concept, and hopefully our base of support gives leaders room to focus adequately on program development and execution, and avoid the sometimes exclusive focus on fundraising.” 

One measure of Blue Ridge’s success is that the foundation has given about $6.1 million in cash grants, and their organizations have collectively leveraged that to raise about $32.5 million in cash.

Another early Blue Ridge venture that receives high marks and leverages Blue Ridge’s support into multi-million dollar funding is Groundwork, based in eastern Brooklyn where over 70% of children are born into poverty. Richard R. Buery, Jr., executive director, and co-founder with Matthew Klein, leads Groundwork in serving over 2,500 families in programs including educational summer camps, after-school programs, workforce development, family counseling, college access programs, public benefits counseling, and legal advocacy.

Blue Ridge Foundation is a model for other investors seeking to help talented nonprofit leaders build innovative, sustainable, and effective organizations that will elevate our communities for a greater future.

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About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions. Korngold's latest book is "A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot," published by Palgrave Macmillan for release on 1/7/14

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