Welcome to Builders + Backers. My name is Donna Harris. I am a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist who spent a decade mobilizing communities and entrepreneurs around solving problems that really matter. As Managing Director of the Startup America Partnership in the wake of the great recession, I led cities across the country in strengthening their support for entrepreneurs and eventually I also joined the board of directors of the Global Entrepreneurship Network to continue that work on a global scale. That led to my founding 1776, where I traveled the world to find, fund and help scale startups that were creating innovations that matter.
I was traveling in circles with world leaders, investors and elites, who were heralding the promise of technology (and reaping the rewards of it). But my family lived in places like downtown Detroit and rural North Carolina and Virginia that told an entirely different story. I watched as friends and family lost one job after the next and employment options in their communities diminished. It reminded me of how, after 34 years of service and just one year short of retirement, my dad was laid off from General Motors.
Growing inequality was getting harder and harder to ignore, and increasing automation was only going to make it worse. Every single community I visited was worrying about the future of their economies and grappling with enormous social consequences. Yet, as they poured billions of dollars into creating startup ecosystems in the hopes that entrepreneurs would create jobs, Americans were actually less likely to start a business today than at any time since the 1970’s.
I felt to my core that this was what I was supposed to tackle next. Over three years I read over thousands of books, reports, studies and articles. I talked with Senators, Congressmen, Presidential Advisors, Governors, Mayors, City Council Members, CEO’s, executives, Chief Innovation Officers, authors and academics, religious leaders and everyday people, from all parties, races, and walks of life from the poorest inner city residents and rural farmers, to the urban elite and some of the world’s wealthiest families. And I ran hundreds of experiments across the country.
From these learnings, has come Builders + Backers.
Builders + Backers was created to ignite action in communities across the world through entrepreneurial leadership and action. From the smallest of projects to the biggest, boldest ideas, we can unleash the power of Buildership™ to become people of action. And, in sharing our challenges and our ideas for solving them, we will see the common threads that connect us more than divide us.
Builders + Backers isn’t just a company, a philanthropist and a fund. This is a movement and it is just getting started. I invite you into us as we come together to create a future of flourishing for all.