Pursuing Economic Justice and Financial Health through Local Entrepreneurship in Baltimore City

Reimagining a city, empowering it's most financially insecure, with tools, support, and resources to seed and grow main street entrepreneurs

Photo of Fagan Harris
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  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Man

Where are you making a difference?

Maryland: Baltimore (21217) Maryland: Baltimore (21216) Maryland: Baltimore (21229) Maryland: Baltimore (21224) Maryland: Baltimore (21205)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)


  • $1m - $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)


Twitter URL


Facebook URL


LinkedIn URL


1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

Growing up, Fagan overcame a culture of low expectations, which pervaded his Baltimore working-class community. As he puts it, “I grew up and lived the reality of post-industrial America. I was educated in public schools that barely graduated half of its students and watched close family members battle addiction and gang life. Caring individuals pushed me to reach higher, which led me to Stanford University.” But, despite all these experiences (and qualifications), it was the 6-months it took to land a job in the city's non-profit sector that finally spurred him to focus squarely on re-imagining a sector which empowers individuals to build new community-driven economies that improves the financial health of the historically underserved.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

We believe that challenges are started by people, they must be addressed by people; but identifying, matching, and retaining talent to the best-aligned opportunities is the greatest bottleneck for the social impact sector, especially the entrepreneurial ecosystems within a city. Social/Entrepreneurship presents a unique avenue for creating non-traditional jobs and opportunities to meet the specific needs of a city's underserved communities.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our approach is predicated on the intense study of the best models of entrepreneurship development, across sectors, in the US. We have identified the most challenging hurdles for social/entrepreneurs in Baltimore City, especially those of color. Our Elevation Awards program, in its 3rd year, provides the opportunity for real-time insights into our model. We are moving into the next phase by organizing a comprehensive network of resources, tools, and people to support the sector at-large across the city, especially those in historically underresourced communities. This work includes mapping Technical Assistance providers across stages of business development, demystifying access to financial capital (through microloans i.e. Kiva, seed grants, venture capital and investment funds). Ultimately, it is our goal to seed and significantly grow the number of small businesses focusing on growing non-downtown main streets and communities through job creation and civic engagement. This approach is a city-wide strategy, which necessitates collaborations across sectors of institutional and individual actors, in alignment with Baltimore Corps' value of putting the city's long-term needs first.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

Jamar Jones is a talented multimedia professional. He owns and operates Six Point pictures, a film and media production company that captures the dynamic stories of his individual and corporate clients in Baltimore and around the nation. Through his participation in Baltimore Corps' Elevation Awards program, Jamar recognized a need to fosters new voices of color by training the next generation of filmmakers in Baltimore City who do not have access to the common academic training paths for filmmakers, which resulted in the Filmmakers Meetup program. With his studio in West Baltimore, Jamar is able to bring new opportunities to a challenged community and provide unique job opportunities for the community residents. Baltimore Corps has supported Jamar with business planning, access to financial capital to further develop his studio space and connected him to further growth opportunities.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

According to the Prosperity Now Racial Wealth Divide in Baltimore study, the city's population comprises 63% Blacks and 28% White. However, the average white household makes 2x the income of the average black household. The unemployment rate of workers of color is 3x the rate for white workers and 1/3 of black households have zero net worth. The zip codes which we target cover the most underserved communities of color, needing non-traditional pathways to economic justice through job creation.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • geography
  • race/ethnicity
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

In our study, we have identified many organizations and initiatives that attempt to address issues confronting entrepreneurs at the local level. For example, Impact Hub and other co-working spaces offer unique opportunities to build community and peer support. Foundations, banks, and city agencies have initiatives as well. However, there is a profound lack of coordination and alignment across these networks and efforts. Baltimore Corps' approach differs because it directly serves clients like Jamar Jones and invests in activities that coordinate and align technical supports and services.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Baltimore Corps has directly invested in 35 entrepreneurs through its Elevation Awards program ($10K per entrepreneur plus a year of intensive technical support) as well as served a larger community of entrepreneurs through one-day intensives (up to 50 entrepreneurs per session) and nearly one hundred more through its lending platform via kiva.org. 80% of clients have achieved accelerated milestones including securing fiscal sponsors, developing minimum viable products, developing data models and securing additional capital resources. Specifically, they have leveraged their seed investments to almost $1M in additional secured funds. These efforts have also allowed non-traditional entrepreneurs to accelerate their learning curve. Under 1.5 years of founding B360, West Baltimore native Brittany Young has just been accepted into the 2018 class of the Echoing Green Fellowship.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

Develop a citywide data model and mapping tool for the resources needed by entrepreneurs to be effective. Support service providers to ensure the highest quality of services are provided, including organizing around areas of expertise areas and target audiences. Organize funders to influence behavior change with a compelling case for field building in concert with financial partners to change the dynamics of capital to create a more favorable funding climate for this population. Disseminate asset-based narratives, to drive attention and awareness around the challenges faced by this population.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Open Sourcing
  • Campaigns
  • Industry Standards (labels, certification, awards, etc.)

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Baltimore Corps has an excellent track record of deploying fee-for-service strategies, predominantly in its search and placement business/program lines. Leveraging that expertise, Baltimore Corps will scaffold a training, consulting, and accreditation earned-income model to develop other providers doing this work. Baltimore Corps serves a specific population that is frequently overlooked but increasingly acknowledged as a priority. This is a market opportunity for Baltimore Corps to stand out.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Baltimore Corps employs 20 F/T staff that represents the diversity, in career experiences, competencies, and other demographics, of the network we serve and the city. Baltimore Corps' leadership is anchored by a visionary Ashoka Fellow, Fagan Harris with strong support by a Vice President with 20+ years of non-profit management experience. It's Director level staff represent careers in the private sector, major nonprofits and entrepreneurship. The diversity flows down the organization chart

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Communities of color

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Organization name

Baltimore Corps

Program Design Clarity

Mandatory 2-hour monthly cohort trainings, led by faculty members. Individual monthly biweekly meetings with the Program Manager. Meetings with subject matter faculty or peers as needed for customized support. Faculty members represent partner institutions such as foundations, incubators, and civic leaders. Three one-day intensive trainings for non-admitted community of social entrepreneurs of color. Cohort one-on-one alumni support as needed.

Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?

  • entrepreneurship
  • investments

Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work

  • Product innovation (Introduction of a good or service or improvements made to existing products)
  • Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)
  • Institutional innovation (Creation or changes in organizational structures, the setting up of new types of financial intermediaries, or to changes in the legal and supervisory framework)

Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

We engage partners in the lifecycle of entrepreneurship development. Community and faith leaders help us identify talent with community relevant solutions, with impact for scale. Resource providers such as Impact Hub Baltimore and JHU Social Innovation Lab support our cohort development efforts. Foundations (i.e., T. Rowe Price), corporations (i.e., Legg Mason) and other institutional partners (i.e., Echoing Green and Kiva) serve as next-step resources upon to further develop their platforms.

If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?

It would help us dedicate the resources necessary to develop the data model and mapping tools rapidly. These tools would be extremely beneficial to support the ecosystem and change behaviors required to build a compelling case for more institutional change.

Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?

Brittany Young incubated her idea with our Elevation Awards and continues to grow her platform (https://www.redbull.com/us-en/b360-baltimore-dirt-bike-social-enterprise). http://www.therenewalproject.com/5-things-we-learned-from-social-entrepreneurs-in-new-york/ https://ssir.org/articles/entry/early_stage_entrepreneurs_can_drive_new_social_movements

Evaluation results

2 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 50%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 50%

Clarity of Model - 50%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 50%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 50%

Impact measurement - 50%

Impact Potential - 50%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 100%

Potential to scale - 0%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 100%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 100%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 100%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 100%


Join the conversation:

Photo of RW Jones

What issues will the social entrepreneurs solve specifically? Just curious.

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