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Lupe Looking for the Next Big Idea

by Jessica McKinney Photo: Getty Images

It doesn’t take much to get Lupe Fiasco thinking about the bigger picture, and his conversation with Waze CEO Di-Ann Eisnor for Fast Company was no different. Although the two come from different backgrounds – Lupe being a Grammy-award winning rapper from Chicago and Eisnor, a top executive at a major tech company – the two found common ground in their passion for philanthropy with their Neighborhood Start Fund. More specifically, the two bonded over a shared belief that “good ideas can come from anywhere” including poverty-stricken, neglected neighborhoods.

And that shared belief came together to form their joint venture. The initiative, which is a “business pitching competition” searches through inner-city neighborhoods around the coast, listening to pitches from young innovators in pursuit of the next big idea. Many of the neighborhoods have a residential population of 75 percent African-American and 20 percent Latino. As of now, the project will launch on Nov. 13, with one location in Brownsville, Brooklyn, but according to Lupe, “Brownsville is just the beginning.” In the feature, Eisnor says it’s important that this project is seen as more than philanthropic work, however.

“It’s very important to me that this is not philanthropy, that we have real economic engines and real wealth coming to these neighborhoods. If one success comes out of this, then other investors will take it seriously. We want to be the on-ramp to something more sustainable,” she said.

In terms of “real wealth,” they are looking to create $100 million out of the funding project in over a dozen neighborhoods by 2016. And while that’s a large sum of money for these underprivileged areas, the contestants are also expected to earn something from the experience. They’ll compete for $5,000 to turn their winning ideas into prototypes and will have access to mentoring programs and free technology services.

Inner-city neighborhoods might be the unlikely spot to find entrepreneurs, but according to Fiasco and Eisnor, unlikely places have great, hidden talent. And for the haters and non-believers Eisnor says, “So? You don’t have to believe it. We’ll prove it. I’d also say that some of the best companies are from people who didn’t get to finish their education. Being an entrepreneur is more about being stubborn, tenacious, hard-working, and focused, rather than having any specific skill set.”

Second that. To sign your bright idea up for the pitching contest in Brownsville, visit the Neighborhood Start Fund’s page here.

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