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Burton D. Morgan Foundation concentrating its entrepreneurship efforts on Akron

In hopes of helping to further the momentum of Akron’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, an entrepreneurship funder, is placing a significant emphasis on the city for its adult entrepreneurship programming.

In recent years, the foundation has addressed entrepreneurship across Northeast Ohio with a broad brush. Considering the “expansiveness and complexity” of the evolving ecosystem, the foundation is shifting to become more targeted and specialized in order to maximize its impact, according to the foundation’s recently released strategic framework, dubbed Venture 2021.

“There is a tremendous amount of opportunity in Akron at this time,” said Deborah Hoover, president and CEO of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. “We’re already a significant investor in the growing Akron ecosystem, and we want to continue that work in a very concentrated fashion.”

The foundation will focus on Akron for at least the near term, but Hoover said that could shift depending on where it sees the greatest opportunity.

“I feel like this sort of a public statement from an organization that is truly an expert voice in entrepreneurship throughout the entire region. It really shows support for the work that we’ve been doing over the last few years, which is fantastic for Akron,” said Heather Roszczyk, innovation and entrepreneurship advocate for Akron. “I think that we’ve done a good job of laying a strong foundation in the ecosystem, and now there’s a lot of room for that to really flourish.”

About every three years, the Burton D. Morgan Foundation takes an in-depth look at its strategy. It spent the end of 2017 and all of 2018 taking stock of its work. The process included a learning tour with partners across the region; surveys and interviews with more than 140 grantees, stakeholders and colleagues; and a board-staff retreat to examine what they learned and find the best path forward, which they collected in Venture 2021.

Going forward, the foundation will focus on three main areas — grantmaking, ecosystem building and knowledge sharing — each of which will support the others.

The foundation plans to continue to support its youth and collegiate entrepreneurship programs through an application process. But for the adult entrepreneurship programming, all applications going forward will be on an invitation-only basis, with an emphasis on Akron. The foundation will provide targeted funding for “select” regionwide initiatives.

Also as part of the strategic framework, the foundation will this year launch the Morgan Scout Fund, an initiative that aims to design proactive and innovative solutions to gaps in the regional ecosystem.

Because this is now a transition year for the foundation, it will be accepting applications from current grantees only, with limited opportunity for expanded programming. For grant requests greater than $20,000, the foundation will resume accepting applications from new grantees Feb. 1, 2020, for a June decision. For grant requests of $20,000 and under, the foundation will resume accepting requests on from new grantees Jan. 1, 2020, for a rolling decision, according to Venture 2021.

The landscape for entrepreneurs has changed dramatically since a decade ago, when the ecosystem was in its infancy, with fewer players and less support, Hoover said.

“I think we as a foundation had to take a look at the size of our resources and our capacity as a regional foundation and just decide how we were going to best deploy those dollars to be most effective in the region,” she said. “And I think that means we’re going to have to be more targeted in how we invest those dollars in order to be as effective as we can be as an organization.”

Hoover cited the launch of downtown incubator Bounce Innovation Hub as a big piece of Akron’s current entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“We want to be part of that momentum,” she said.

Burton D. Morgan Foundation has already made significant financial investments in Akron, including into Bounce, where it contributed to the establishment of the Bit Factory, supported funding the networking café and also provided programming dollars, Hoover said.

Bounce relies on state funding, rent and support from its presenting partners, as well as “critically important” foundational support such from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, said Doug Weintraub, CEO of Bounce.

“We’re just scratching the surface of where we can take this ecosystem in support of entrepreneurial companies,” he said. “So having additional funding for specific programs and resources that we can add allows us to continue to provide those services to these companies as they grow.”

Because Akron is sometimes viewed as “kind of a kid sibling to Cleveland,” there’s been a misconception that it doesn’t have a strong entrepreneurship community, Roszczyk said.

“And I think that this, again, very public show of support by Burton D. Morgan just really helps to demonstrate that that’s not the case, that there’s so much happening here and there’s so many opportunities here.”

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