Introducing The Studio @ Blue Meridian

October 30, 2020

Accelerating Readiness for Scale

This fall marks an important anniversary for one of our newest investment portfolios, The Studio @ Blue Meridian. One year ago, we began a pilot program to help more organizations accelerate their readiness for scale. Today, The Studio is a central pillar of our commitment to innovation and experimentation in pursuit of our mission: improving the economic mobility of young people and families trapped in poverty. Going forward, The Studio will be a critical part of Blue Meridian’s work, and we aim to significantly increase our investing, deploying multiple strategies to support promising organizations.

We launched The Studio to fill clear gaps in the social sector capital market and provide visionary social sector leaders with the space, resources, and support they need to test and refine their strategies in order to pursue the next level of scale. In the private sector, “mezzanine” capital gives entrepreneurs the resources and flexibility to pursue high-potential opportunities and carve a pathway to scaling. Yet the social sector has few analogs for capitalizing this stage of growth and innovation when leaders have needs beyond the critical early stage investment and support from funding intermediaries, such as Ashoka, Camelback Ventures, and Echoing Green. The result is few resources available for leaders with proven track records looking to experiment and iterate upon on their existing platforms. Additionally, research released by Echoing Green and The Bridgespan Group this summer illustrates the stark funding gaps that remain for organizations with Black and Latinx leadership at every stage of development. Given our historic role as a later stage funder, we will continue exploring strategies to address these broader philanthropic capital market shortcomings and investing in more organizations with leadership teams that reflect the communities they serve and have proximity to the problems they are focused on solving.

The Studio will continue to pilot and evolve investing strategies to address these market gaps with a focus on providing flexible capital and tailored advisory support to organizations preparing for transformational growth. Our work is intended to build upon and leverage the efforts of other funders, while supporting social sector leaders to pursue the strategies they believe will ready their organizations to expand their reach, impact, and influence.

 

First Steps

As a first move, we supported a cohort of organizations, which we introduce below, who were fantastic partners when our pilot efforts began last year. They provided us with frequent and insightful feedback at each stage as we adopted the same test-and-refine approach internally to mold The Studio. We drew from the experience of other funders, including The Audacious Project, New Profit, and Robin Hood, among others, who were instrumental in shaping our approach and who have also funded many of these organizations.

To date, we have invested over $50 million in these seven organizations. For each organization, we provide funding up to $10 million in unrestricted funds to implement their two-year action plan. This plan is designed to be a flexible playbook that guides their experimentation as they seek to demonstrate a viable pathway to impact at scale.

 

Looking Ahead

The enormity of the COVID-19 crisis has driven us to rethink and refocus. The disproportionate impact on young people and families already living in poverty — particularly in communities of color — makes our work even more urgent. This spring, when the full scope of COVID-19’s impact became clear, Blue Meridian moved quickly to deliver emergency relief funding for organizations serving those hit hardest by the crisis.

In addition, further reflection led us to accelerate The Studio’s work to support leaders and organizations working to both address emerging challenges and prepare for longer-term recovery. We will share an update in the coming months about our next investments in organizations addressing specific needs arising from the pandemic.

We look forward to expanding The Studio to further our mission and explore what we can do with other funders, intermediaries, and social sector leaders to address the systemic equity gaps in the US capital market that stand in the way of our collective ability to solve our most pressing problems. Stay tuned for updates including the progress of our participating organizations, key learnings, new investments, and evolving strategy as we embrace experimentation and preparation on the path to scale.

 

Meet the Participants of The Studio @ Blue Meridian

 

OneGoal

Mellissa Connelly
Chief Executive Officer

   

New Leaders

Jean Desravines
Chief Executive Officer

“The Studio got us to a process of just thinking outside the box and saying, ‘How can we be bold? How can we be creative?’ It allowed us to push our thinking beyond the current and beyond what’s possible.”

   

LEAD

Lisa Daugaard
Director, Public Defender Association

   

Family Independence Initiative

Jesus Gerena
Chief Executive Officer

“The Studio was a time for us to diversify and really iterate and test quickly and see what emerges, so that we can make a better-informed choices for our organization and our mission.”

 

   

College Possible

Craig Robinson
Chief Executive Officer

 

   

Waterford UPSTART

Claudia Miner
Co-Founder & Executive Director

“One of the things The Studio did was make it possible for us to have the resources and the dedicated time at the same time. And that is unusual.”

 

  

Compass Working Capital

Sherry Riva
Founder & Executive Director

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