The Blackstone Charitable Foundation, together with Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Law School, today announced the launch of the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network (BEN), a three-year initiative to help Colorado jumpstart the development of high-growth companies with the greatest potential to create new jobs in the region. Over the past year, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation worked with Bennet to successfully bring this program to the state.
The Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s $4 million grant will fund the formation of a dense network of entrepreneurial support in Colorado, similar to networks that exist in Silicon Valley, New York’s Silicon Alley, and the Boston Corridor.
First developed in North Carolina’s Research Triangle with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network creates connected networks, or “ecosystems,” of serial entrepreneurs across the nation with the goal of extending access to resources and support for potentially high-growth companies to grow and remain within their regional communities. In Colorado, Blackstone sees an opportunity to build on a burgeoning hub of innovation, and will implement best practices derived from the success of the pilot program, where companies working with the program have raised over $50 million in funding.
Blackstone’s Jon Gray delivered the keynote address at the announcement. “Thriving hubs of entrepreneurial activity, like Silicon Valley, have the potential to transform a region,” said Gray. “Through programs like the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, we are giving local entrepreneurs access to expert mentors and other support services that will hopefully incubate robust entrepreneurial ecosystems across the country.”
To lead the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network program in Colorado, the Foundation has hired J.B. Holston as Executive Director of the program. Holston is a well-known civic leader who brings more than twenty-five years of experience as a CEO and entrepreneur across a wide range of organizations. Based at Galvanize, the Denver-based start-up community facility, Holston will support the work of the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship in connection with the grant. The Silicon Flatirons Center was founded by Phil Weiser, who remains its Executive Director and is Dean of the University of Colorado Law School.
“Colorado has a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Holston. “Blackstone’s commitment will help us connect networks of wonderfully experienced entrepreneurs across industries and geographies to great Colorado companies which are on the cusp of substantial scale-up success. I’m honored to work with tremendous leaders across the state and Blackstone to help take Colorado’s innovation economy to the next level.”
The announcement was made at an event at the Denver Art Museum. In addition to Gray, attendees included Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper; U.S. Senator Michael Bennet; Bruce D. Benson, President of the University of Colorado; Phil DiStefano, Chancellor of the University of Colorado Boulder; and Brad Feld, Managing Director, Foundry Group and Co-Founder, Techstars.
How it works:
Developed as part of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s $50 million, five-year Entrepreneurship Initiative, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network will recruit serial “Master Entrepreneurs” to work together and to mentor start-ups with the greatest potential to become high-growth companies. Master Entrepreneurs are “serial entrepreneurs” with extensive hands-on, company-building experience and the skills and know-how for mentoring, coaching and navigating roadblocks. The program provides access to the Master Entrepreneurs’ networks as well as the broader Blackstone network.
What They Are Saying: A Quote Roundup
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper: “Colorado has already been recognized as having 4 of the top 10 – and 5 of the top 20 – communities in the country for startups: Boulder, Fort Collins, Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction. The investment of the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network is both a vote of confidence for the work that has been done in Colorado through such efforts as the Colorado Innovation Network and the innovation that will come in the future.”
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet: “The Foundation’s support will strengthen regional connections between our state’s entrepreneurs and start-ups, ultimately leading to more innovation and more jobs. Through its partnership with the University of Colorado, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network will ensure that start-up companies with high-growth potential have access to the networks, mentors, and guidance they need to grow and succeed.”
U.S. Senator Mark Udall: “Colorado is a natural fit for an entrepreneurial ecosystem such as the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network – with our world-class universities, innovative workforce and pragmatic work ethic, we have a long history of hosting successful hubs for entrepreneurs,” Udall said. “I fully expect to see this collaboration between the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and CU-Boulder Law School’s Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship yield ideas and businesses that rival the best in Silicon Valley. I look forward to working with them to find and implement technological solutions that spur economic growth – and keep it going in Colorado communities – and create the jobs of the future.”
U.S. Representative Diana DeGette: “The entrepreneurial community in Colorado has been doing great things, and this kind of focused effort will direct needed resources and expertise to help more companies scale and grow in state. This partnership blends the best of these institutions and will help elevate Colorado’s business community to reach its full potential.”
U.S. Representative Jared Polis: “I am thrilled that the next Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network will be launched in Colorado and be based at CU-Boulder. This initiative will be a great addition to the thriving startup scene in Colorado, and ensure that innovative new businesses have the tools necessary to succeed, contribute to the economy, and create jobs.”
U.S. Representative Scott Tipton: “The Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network will provide an exciting and valuable new resource for developing small businesses and entrepreneurs throughout Colorado. This investment will not only jumpstart job creation, but foster long-term economic growth in communities across our state.”
U.S. Representative Cory Gardner: “I'm happy to see the Blackstone Charitable Foundation recognize the potential for entrepreneurship here in Colorado. This grant will help fast track quality jobs and put Colorado at the forefront of new and innovative technologies.”
U.S. Representative Doug Lamborn: “Thank you to the Blackstone Foundation for their considerable generosity to help jumpstart Colorado’s private sector. It is always encouraging to see partnerships helping our local businesses.”
U.S. Representative Ed Perlmutter: “Through education, innovation and collaboration, Colorado will continue to lead the way to developing the newest technologies and products. Launching the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network shows how national investment firms are taking our Colorado technology corridor seriously, which will translate into good paying, high tech jobs here in our state.”
Bruce D. Benson, University of Colorado President: “The support from the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network will substantially boost CU's efforts to foster partnerships with the entrepreneurial community. We appreciate their generosity and the confidence they have in our people and programs.”
Dean Phil Weiser, University of Colorado Law School: “The Silicon Flatirons Center's DNA is to be an interface between our surrounding community, partners around the state, and the CU-Boulder campus. The opportunity to support Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network here in Colorado builds on our past work, enables us to work intensively with valued partners around the state, and makes an impact in our entrepreneurial community. We are honored to be selected as the steward of this opportunity and are most grateful to all of the community partners we have worked with to develop the vision for this exciting initiative.”
Brad Feld, Managing Director, Foundry Group and Co-Founder, Techstars: “The vibrancy of entrepreneurial activity in Colorado is at an all-time high. BEN will help many of the startups to ‘scale up’ much faster through an interconnected network of master entrepreneurs throughout the state.”