With a goal of making “exclusive groups more inclusive,” the Cleveland Avenue venture fund and accelerator is investing in a specific group of actors — purpose-driven entrepreneurs in historically underserved Chicago neighborhoods — and providing support and access critical to their success.
As Co-Founder Don Thompson said during a SPECTRUM21 session, Cleveland Avenue and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation are creating this investment model with the hope that it can be replicated in other cities — amplifying positive impact through the $70 million CAST US fund designated for “new talent.”
Cleveland Avenue and other leaders in the impact investment community are prioritizing equity and inclusion while providing “the opportunity to be a part of success and achievement,” as Don said.
“We wanted to be able to create a venture capital group that could be very different looking in terms of the diversity of our team, the way we invested, the way we nurtured and supported entrepreneurs,” Don said. “And along with that, we also wanted to ensure that we continue to support our communities and particularly those that are underrepresented in terms of opportunities.”
In the session, Don was joined by Liz Thompson, co-founder of Cleveland Avenue and president of the Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education, and John Palfrey, President of the MacArthur Foundation. In the conversation Liz emphasized the need to engage the communities where their work is taking place.
“Everyone can be part of the solution, whether you’re a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, a funder—it doesn’t matter what role you play, you can be part of the solution,” Liz said. “First and most importantly, listen. That’s what we’ve done is listen. We’re building the plane as we fly it but we’re allowing the people that are closest to the work to actually be the pilots and tell us how to navigate and what flight plan we need to use.”
Palfrey added that the partnership with Cleveland Avenue is one way the MacArthur Foundation is working to advance racial justice through economic empowerment.
“In recent years, MacArthur has deepened our longstanding commitment and also broadened our commitment to advancing racial justice and committing to do even more in the years ahead,” Palfrey said. “Through our grants and impact investments, we’re working to create a more resilient, inclusive community.