Heartland Forward announced Wednesday (Sept. 29) that it is raising $4 million to support the expansion of a new idea accelerator program to 1,000 entrepreneurs by 2023.
Heartland Forward’s new Community Growth Program and Toolkit (CGPT) provides training, tools and resources for aspiring entrepreneurs in communities in the middle of the country. They will receive a $5,000 Pebble Grant, training and assistance to run a rapid, small-scale test of their ideas.
Heartland Forward launched the program in Tulsa, Okla., and Oxford, Miss., earlier this year. A news release Wednesday said the majority of 15 entrepreneurs chosen for those initial cohorts were women and people of color.
Washington, D.C.-based Builders and Backers runs the program with partner Accenture. Application instructions and more details are available here. To enter, applicants must describe a challenge or problem with which they are concerned and wish to be resolved, their creative thinking on how to tackle it, and how they might test their ideas quickly and inexpensively to see if they will work.
Heartland Forward officials announced the program expansion at the inaugural Community Impact Event. Angie Cooper, Heartland Forward’s chief program officer, opened the virtual event by discussing with Alejandra Y. Castillo, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development.
“Community-based solutions that advance individual empowerment is what our country is built on. This is the American Dream,” Castillo said in a statement. “As a child, I helped run small businesses to support my family. This experience has fueled my passion for entrepreneurship and its impact on lives, communities and economies. What Heartland Forward is doing with their inaugural program is exciting.”
Ross DeVol is president and CEO of Heartland Forward. Launched in 2019, Heartland Forward is the first U.S. think tank focused exclusively on the economic situation of the Heartland region. It is spearheaded by members of the Walton family and led by DeVol, a former Walton Fellow and Milken Institute chief research officer.
“We have been fortunate to have outstanding partners with this program. Builders and Backers, as well as Accenture, have been with us from the beginning,” DeVol said. “Innovation and entrepreneurship can be a gamechanger for a community, and the Community Growth Program and Toolkit is first-of-its-kind for social entrepreneurs as well as entrepreneurs who may scale their business over time.
“We believe the true differentiator is giving people the chance to experiment while being surrounded by mentors who are experienced entrepreneurs themselves, and in some cases, investors. They want to see these aspiring entrepreneurs be successful as entrepreneurs whether with today’s idea or one in the future.”