Blackstone Charitable Foundation will spend $3 million on Philadelphia-area entrepreneurship effort

Posted: December 04, 2012

An Abington High School graduate-turned-private equity magnate - a man wealthy enough to hire Rod Stewart and Patti LaBelle to play at his birthday party - will spend $3 million to launch an entrepreneurship program in the Philadelphia area.

Technically, the money comes from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Blackstone Group, a publicly traded $3.2 billion private equity fund led by Stephen A. Schwarzman, whose name graces the high school stadium.

But the push behind the Blackstone LaunchPad comes from Schwarzman, co-founder of the New York company.

"The reason we've done this," he said, is "after the Lehman collapse, it became clear where we were going: into a recession where there could be high levels of unemployment. ... We decided the best contribution we could make would be to help people create jobs by creating businesses. That way, they can take care of themselves."

Philadelphia was chosen, the foundation said, because it needs economic growth and already has an entrepreneurial network.

The $3 million will pay for new staff and offices at Temple University, Philadelphia University, and the University City Science Center, allowing 41,000 students at the two schools - and later, alumni - to participate in the Blackstone LaunchPad.

Students can fill out a comprehensive venture assessment and personal profile detailing their business ambitions. They will receive preliminary coaching at the colleges to help them hone their plans.

Those whose plans are viable will receive more intensive coaching and mentoring through the Science Center, which has a 50-year track record of nurturing businesses. Its website ( www.sciencecenter.org) says that 350 organizations have "graduated" since its inception, and that 93 of them are companies in the area employing 15,000.

Nationwide, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation will spend $50 million over five years to support entrepreneurship. Some of the money will fund other university-based LaunchPads; some will finance entrepreneurial support in places with particular challenges, such as Detroit.

"We fully expect to double the amount of students who receive our services," said Jaine Lucas, director of Temple's Innovation and Enterprise Institute. Though the institute is housed in Temple's business college, Lucas said, she wants entrepreneurial students in every school - communications, engineering, arts, education - to participate.

"Great ideas will come from everywhere," Lucas said.

It sounds good to Antinnea Skipwith, 21, a senior in Temple's communications school. She dreams of starting a social-networking company uniting the African diaspora "to help build the economies of those people wherever they are in the world."

She'd rather start a business than get a job: "I want to follow my own vision, not someone else's."

Philadelphia University president Stephen Spinelli Jr., one of the entrepreneurs who started Jiffy Lube, thinks the Blackstone LaunchPad fits into links the school already is making in design, engineering, and commerce.

The mentoring and support network also is key. Students "are making the connections they need for their businesses while they are still in college," Spinelli said.

Schwarzman didn't start his career as an entrepreneur. By the time he was 31, he had become a managing director at Lehman Bros., the investment-banking firm that collapsed in September 2008, roiling financial markets here and abroad.

After he left Lehman, he and a partner started Blackstone in 1985, building it to $3.2 billion in 2011 revenue.

If "someone wants to start a business, we're trying to make that an easier success," he said.

Schwarzman hopes the local effort will grow 200 businesses. If the half that survive create 500 jobs, he'll be satisfied:

"We plant a seed."


Contact Jane Von BergenĀ  at 215-854-2769, jvonbergen@phillynews.com, or follow @JaneVonBergen on Twitter. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.

|
|
|
|
|