November 17, 2017

D.C. proves it’s a leader in supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs

Three inspiring stories of innovation and ingenuity across America

A new partnership will empower entrepreneurs in Washington. Photo by Ashton Bingham on Unsplash

Every Friday, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions individuals and organizations are creating in their communities. Want to share a story from your hometown? Email us at

Together we rise: In D.C., one is more powerful than three. That’s according to the nonprofits humble impact, Changing Perceptions, and DC Community Carrot. The three organizations all do similar work, serving the District’s underrepresented entrepreneurs. So they thought, why not join forces? The result: the EmpowerME Initiative, which stands for Empower More Entrepreneurs. “EmpowerME will provide entrepreneurs from an underrepresented background with the resources and programming to support all phases of business development, from the time a young adult is no longer in school and wants to start a microbusiness, to the time she is ready to scale up and expand with outside funding,” Harry Alford, CEO of humble impact, wrote in a Medium post announcing the partnership. EmpowerME hopes to change the composition of America’s entrepreneurs to more closely reflect the country’s diversity. According to data compiled by the Kauffman Foundation, U.S. entrepreneurs are 80.2 percent white and 64.5 percent male. EmpowerME believes that “the next wave of innovation will be driven by the activity of underrepresented entrepreneurs and it will take diverse entrepreneurs to solve the problems of the fastest growing demographic segments.”

Breaking “Shackles” with public art: A new mural in Gainesville, Florida, is engaging the community in the conversation surrounding the viral #MeToo movement, which gives voice to those who have experienced sexual harassment and assault. Earlier this week, artist Daniel Vélez-Climent, who previously worked primarily in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, integrated the hashtag into a new mural, titled “Shackles.” The piece is a collaboration between Vélez-Climent and 352Arts, a local initiative that supports and promotes art in Gainesville. The piece is also unique for its use of 3-D pigments mixed into the paint; there are 500 3-D glasses for passersby to use. During the creation of the piece, community members were invited to participate in the piece’s creation. “It was just really cool. I really appreciate the unification of what he’s doing,” Jessica Lynn Melgaard-Cyman, a local student who helped paint the mural, told “It is really supportive to people who have ever felt unsafe; this is a way for people to get support without having to talk.”

Community impact: Since the 1990s, crime rates have fallen across America. A new report—co-authored by New York University’s Patrick Sharkey, Gerard Torrats-Espinosa, and Delaram Takyar—suggests that one of the overlooked causes of that decline is local nonprofits and community organizations. The report’s authors estimate that “every 10 additional organizations focusing on crime and community life in a city with 100,000 residents leads to a 9 percent reduction in the murder rate, a 6 percent reduction in the violent crime rate, and a 4 percent reduction in the property crime rate.” The theory is simple: community organizations are responsive to community needs, and by meeting those needs, they push people away from more dramatic and negative alternatives. “A lot of these communities were in despair because they needed resources,” Robert Sampson, a social sciences professor at Harvard who has studied and written about Chicago, told The New York Times. “And what did they get? Well, they mainly got crime control. They got increases in incarceration.”

Mikhail Klimentov and Margaret Myers

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor to The Renewal Project.

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.