Michigan Founders Fund logo (Photo by Michigan Founders Fund)

A Michigan nonprofit wants to honor Black leaders around the state advancing racial justice.

The Michigan Founders Fund, an organization that provides startup programming and support to entrepreneurs, announced it is seeking nominations for its inaugural Community Trailblazer Award, which will go to an individual or a group working to advance racial equity.

Sarah Craft, director of community for the founders fund, said the organization’s focus on racial equity was driven in part by the fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya this year by a Grand Rapids police officer. 

“Over the years, founders have seen countless racial injustices and tragedies targeting Black and Brown communities across the nation and here in Michigan,” Craft said of the group’s members. “This has led us to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in several of our programs and is a driver for focusing this year’s award on racial equity.” 

Three “trailblazers” will be honored with the top prize being $10,000 in grant money. Two other awardees will get $2,500. According to the founder’s fund website, ideal awardees are individuals or groups:

  • Working to advance racial equity or racial justice for Black residents
  • Leading initiatives that have potential to be replicable
  • Supported by collaborators or volunteers
  • With a track record of leading successful initiatives
  • Interested in connecting with Michigan’s startup community (i.e. accessing networks, brainstorming ideas and solutions, implementing tech, and more)

Craft said award applicants do not need to have a connection to the Michigan Founders Fund, an existing startup or the tech industry. Leaders interested in the award and connecting with the founders fund network can apply for the Trailblazer Award here. The application deadline is Oct. 2. Craft said awardees will be notified by mid-November.

The founders fund became a statewide nonprofit organization in December and built an advisory team of people across southeast Michigan with expertise in racial justice and grantmaking. 

Mark Greer II, co-executive director of Transforming Power Fund, a Detroit-based social justice fund, is a member of the founders fund advisory team. Greer said in a statement that his work is rooted in the values of inclusion, equity, justice, and transformation. 

“So much of philanthropy in our state has been extractive or has completely ignored the efforts of Black-led, grassroots initiatives,” Greer said. “It’s exciting to see groups like MFF intentionally collaborate with the community to mold their grantmaking and engagement strategies.”

The founders fund team, led by Craft, is working to shape the awards program, launch the application process, support outreach efforts, and evaluate the applications. 

Craft said the Ann Arbor-based organization’s members are tech founders and investors who have pledged 1% of equity or profit into a fund for Michigan-based grantmaking. This year’s award, however, is being paid for with a financial contribution from Bank of Ann Arbor. Craft said the organization is hoping the award becomes an annual effort to recognize leaders throughout the state. 

“I’m sure there will be iterations and changes, but we expect the MFF Community Trailblazer Award to continue for several years,” she said. 

The founders fund is hosting two virtual information sessions on the work of the nonprofit and its Trailblazer Award. The next sessions are from 8:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Sept. 22 and from noon to 12:45 p.m. Sept. 28.

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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