RUNWAY was founded in 2017 by leaders in the women of color entrepreneurship ecosystem to help provide “friends and family”- style capital, expertise, and mentorship to Black businesses who are vitally important to the communities they serve yet continue to face many barriers to building their businesses.
Since launching its first pilot program in partnership with Self Help Federal Credit Union in Oakland, Calif., with a modest $500,000, RUNWAY has since expanded nationally and now directs several million dollars to support Black businesses on both coasts. As a 100% Black and Brown-women led financial innovation firm, RUNWAY is a great example of an innovative impact investment group working to shift the conditions that create severe economic inequalities by reimagining financial policies and practices in the name of Black economic liberation. As an organization, RUNWAY wants to build transformational relationships, not transactional ones. It is a place where business owners, staff, and partners are encouraged to bring their values and their full selves to the workplace––something many people of color don’t get to experience. RUNWAY also encourages healing, self-care, and radical self- love.
RUNWAY wrote in its recent 2018-2019 impact report that most of the entrepreneurs in its portfolio have been operating businesses for many years, “investing income from side hustles, [while] they are raising families.” The report notes that the entrepreneurs are hiring from and activating their communities and improving the world for “all of us.” As RUNWAY entrepreneur Bosco Kante of ElectroSpit says, “RUNWAY brings resources to dreamers and visionaries who don’t have the resources.” Not only do these innovative founders benefit from receiving friendly capital to help grow their businesses, they also become part of a family and a larger ecosystem of Black entrepreneurs who are building wealth in our communities. Their entrepreneurs receive weekly mentorship, direct business advising, increased visibility in the marketplace, and help expanding their networks. They also practice collective economics, benefiting greatly from hiring within the network and collaborating on projects to support the diversity of products and services within the RUNWAY family.
During the beginning of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, the team at RUNWAY knew that Black businesses would be disproportionately affected. In response, RUNWAY piloted an emergency fund that provided a no-strings-attached, 6-month Universal Basic Income (UBI) for the business owners they work with to strengthen their resilience to the challenges and impacts of the pandemic. They also helped business owners navigate other pandemic assistance programs, helping many access the Paycheck Protection Program through their banking partners and saving many jobs in the community as a result.
The Natural Investments advisors and our investors are excited about our commitment to continue being a supportive partners to RUNWAY, which is catalyzing meaningful transformation. Through RUNWAY, social-impact investors and other funders can help make critically important start-up and expansion capital available to Black-owned businesses. RUNWAY is in the process of developing two new initiatives. One focuses on licensing and national expansion that would help more banks across the nation license RUNWAY “friends and family” CD-loan funds to address systemic inequalities. The other focuses on investments into RUNWAY’s entrepreneurial portfolio. RUNWAY also accepts philanthropic contributions.
Photo: The RUNWAY team, left to right: Strategic Director Konda Mason, Strategic Advisor Rani
Langer-Croager, Founder and CEO Jessica Norwood, Fund Director Nina Robinson.
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