The Fund for Our Economic Future (the Fund), an unprededented response by the philanthropic sector to the many pressing long-term economic challenges facing Northeast Ohio (NEO), recently made its first grants to four initiatives viewed as building blocks for the NEO economy.
The grant recipients are BioEnterprise, an organization supporting the commercialization of bioscience breakthroughs; JumpStart, a group backing early-stage entrepreneurial ventures through investment and business development expertise; NorTech, a coalition of technology and business leaders exploring ways to leverage the region’s scientific knowledge base; and Team NEO, a collaboration of regional business organizations promoting business attraction, expansion and retention in Northeast Ohio.
The Fund, launched in early 2004, currently has financial commitments from 58 foundations and corporations in the nine- county region and has set an initial three-year goal of raising and distributing $30 million to efforts that encourage and advance a common and highly focused regional economic development agenda that can lead to long-term economic transformation in ways that recognize the importance of core cities, inclusion/diversity and quality of life. The George Gund Foundation was one of the founding members of the Fund with a $2.75 million commitment.
The four grant recipients were selected because of their alignment with the Fund’s three strategic focus areas: fostering entrepreneurship and business formation, creating new high-growth industry clusters through technology innovation and enhancing the competitiveness of established firms so that they will locate, grow, and prosper in Northeast Ohio.
Grants of $900,000 to BioEnterprise and $2.5 million to JumpStart will help address the Fund’s first strategic area, entrepreneurship and business formation. Both organizations will nurture promising business ventures to commercialization, with BioEnterprise concentrating on bioscience initiatives.
To build new industries through technological innovation, the Fund awarded a $2.25 million grant to NorTech. The grant will be used to develop a regional technology strategy, enhance the region’s reputation for technological innovation, increase federal funding for technology projects and create a program to address the “technology divide” that separates the region’s minority and urban communities from the rest of the area. In addition, the organization will work in collaboration with universities within the region to promote inter-institutional research, as well as research in electrical engineering and computer science.
One of the most pressing issues facing the NEO economy is the recent loss of large, established employers. The Fund’s grant of $2.5 million to Team NEO is intended to minimize future losses by enhancing the competitiveness of existing regional firms. Team NEO will establish ongoing dialogue with the 150 largest and most vibrant employers in the region (the NEO 150) to understand the challenges facing them, as well as opportunities for growth. It will also launch a marketing campaign to highlight the many attributes of the Northeast Ohio region.
The Fund plans to provide grants to eight to fifteen programs over the next three years. Future funding areas will be determined in part through feedback from the residents of Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit, and Wayne Counties as part of the Fund’s dialogue initiative.