For the second year, the Center for Civic Innovation (CCI), a civic-focused entrepreneur hub, has partnered with Atlanta entrepreneur and investor Sara Blakely to fund female entrepreneurs tackling civic issues with for-profit enterprises. Spanx founder Blakely will fund the women’s salary, health care and business development while they are undergoing CCI’s 12-month Civic Innovation Residency program.
“We believe that, in the social sector especially, the great asset is leadership,” says Rohit Malhotra, CCI founder and Executive Director.
“As the key investor, Sara was really the one who decided, with our advice, which women we were going to select,” Malhotra says. “Only in the social sector does the investor carry this much weight, and she was very conscious of that.”
Last year, Blakely funded 10 women-owned businesses through the program. according to Malhotra, during the year the women collectively saw their revenue grow by 30 percent on average, generated $3 million of spending back into the local economy and all hired at least one additional employee. Two businesses passed the $1 million-mark while in the program.
Blakely’s investments into these 18 women represent more than $300,000.
“With any inaugural program, you don’t know what to expect. What we learned was, if you put amazing people in a room — particularly smart, amazing women — it comes out with something incredible,” says Malhotra.
The entrepreneurs have already gone through the six-month CCI Fellowship training where they validated their ideas, ensured a market and identified initial customers. Now they will receive education, coaching, mentorship and office space at CCI in downtown to operationalize and scale the companies.
Leaders and subject-matter experts from Spanx and Blakely’s other properties will also be available to assist the entrepreneurs to solve business challenges. For example, Malhotra says one business last year involved a physical product; a Spanx team member on the manufacturing side was able to provide mentorship and advice.
Brown Toy Box, a subscription box startup that inspires and teaches children of color about STEAM subjects, was one of the companies to receive investment. Founder Terri-Nichelle Bradley says that the funding will give her runway to expand marketing efforts and build their team.
“First, it is so affirming to know that this amazing business woman that I have studied and viewed as a mentor not only sees the value in my work, the impact that Brown Toy Box can make on the communities we serve, but also that there is a real business opportunity here,” says Bradley. “Then, of course, the investment in the most practical sense helps with the capital that all of us need for operations.”
The investment is not structured as an equity transaction — rather, Malhotra explains that the capital is seen as a long-term play where the growth of these business will increase the value of social services and generate economic development.
“The businesses these women are designing have the opportunity to see a long-term ROI from this investment,” he says. CCI has instituted this investment model throughout many of its programs — since inception in 2014, the Center has invested more than $1.5 million in 70 Atlanta-based civic businesses.
The hope is that once they get off the ground and grow their revenue, the entrepreneurs will also invest back in the program.
Here are the 2019 Civic Innovation Residents:
Charnette Trimble, Westmont Estates Community Action Group: Seniors living in Westmont Estates are able to age in place with dignity by connecting them to government home repair programs
Nedra Deadwyler, Civil Bikes: Curates culturally-connected and relevant stories to engage people with place
Samantha Watkins, Urban Perform: A non-profit organization making exercise accessible and affordable to the underserved communities of English Avenue, Vine City and Washington Park in Atlanta
Tiffany LaTrice Williams, TILA Studios: Empowers black women to create and showcase their art
Trish Miller, SwemKids: Aims to eliminate negative perceptions and barriers to swimming proficiency for black children and their families by equipping them with the skills to have a healthy and safe relationship with water
Photos by Tomesha Faxio