CEO Stories: The Future Cities Accelerator

Rockefeller Foundation
The Future Cities Accelerator

In 2016, the Rockefeller Foundation went looking for entrepreneurs — social entrepreneurs to build businesses intended to solve some of the most pressing problems that plague American cities. In just four months, the foundation identified 10 social business builders, giving each of them $100,000 in funding along with numerous new connections and mentoring as part of The Future Cities Accelerator program.

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Rockefeller Foundation Launches Program to Save America’s Cities
By 2025, seventy-five percent of U.S. citizens are expected to live in cities. In recognition of that, in 2016 the Rockefeller Foundation sought to expand its work around helping cities by identifying social entrepreneurs whose businesses are focused on urban issues. The new Future Cities Accelerator program received more than 300 applications from businesses of all kinds.

The Goal
Rockefeller Foundation Association Director Josh Murphy partnered with Jukay Hsu, the Founder of C4Q, the Coalition 4 Queens, to run the competition and administer the program. The parameters were both broad and specific: Broad in the sense that they didn’t want the winning programs to focus on just one area, such as housing, but specific in that they wanted both to help poor, vulnerable populations and also engage more with young people.

Propeling It Forward

Propel, a company that developed an app for food stamp users, was one of the 10 winners. After leaving Silicon Valley in 2014, former Facebook executive Jimmy Chen, Propel’s CEO, was looking to use technology to help alleviate social problems. At first, the focus was on simplifying the enrollment process. Now, the focus is on helping recipients manage their benefits, with Fresh EBT, an app that’s been ranked in the top 20 downloaded Android apps.

Grant Impact
All three men see the grant as more than a one-off. JC sees enormous value in access to a broader network in the government, nonprofit, and for-profit sectors. JM vows that the Rockefeller Foundation is in it for the long haul, and will provide mentorship from a variety of sectors and exposure to a broader ecosystem. The hope is that doing so will build scale, and broaden the impact of these programs while helping to inspire others.

About the Series: Featured stories from the intersection of the free market and entrepreneurial success. Here we speak with leading CEOs, academics, philanthropists and up and comers on their contributions and perspectives on the American economy.

About Ray Hoffman: Ray Hoffman, a veteran business journalist, is highly-regarded for his news and analysis features and insightful CEO interviews. Representing BusinessWeek on air for twenty-one years, Mr. Hoffman was the morning business news voice on the ABC Radio Networks from 1995 to 2006. Mr. Hoffman also represented The Wall Street Journal, on air, for eleven years. His daily WCBS CEO Radio feature was recognized by the New York Press Club as best radio business news report in both 2012 and 2015. In this podcast, Mr. Hoffman invites some of America’s most dynamic CEOs to share their stories as business builders and perspectives on free enterprise.