Ascend Newark: National initiative aims to connect minority business owners to anchor institutions

Program, now in 15 cities, is being led here by CUEED, Pru, JPMorgan, RWJBH

The Ascend network, a national program aimed at helping local businesses owned by people of color increase contract relationships with anchor institutions, is coming to Newark.

The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at the Rutgers Business School, in collaboration with RWJBarnabas Health, Greater Newark Enterprises Corp. and Greater Newark Local Initiatives Support Corp., announced Thursday that they are launching Ascend Newark — the 15th such program around the country.

The Newark program is funded through investments from JPMorgan Chase and Prudential Financial.

Here’s how it will work:

Through Ascend Newark, 15 Black and Latinx entrepreneurs will receive management education from CUEED to strengthen their business operations and connect to contract opportunities at RWJBarnabas Health and Prudential, with the goal of developing relationships with other regional and statewide anchor institutions.

CUEED has been educating and coaching diverse entrepreneurs in the state for more than a decade. Its executive director, Lyneir Richardson, said the organization is eager to bring its knowledge and experience to the leadership role.

“We are pleased that the Ascend program, which connects underserved entrepreneurs with capital, procurement opportunities and business management education resources, is adding Newark to one of 14 cities nationwide where the initiative operates,” Richardson said. “With investment from JPMorgan Chase and Prudential Financial, we are now working closely with anchor institutions and Community Development Financial Institution partners to intentionally bolster the growth of minority-owned companies in Newark.”

RWJBarnabas Health CEO Barry Ostrowsky said the health system is eager to participate.

“In our role as an anchor institution, it is incumbent upon us to invest in our local and diverse businesses. Ascend Newark will help us accelerate our support of the equitable distribution of economic opportunity to our neighbors in Newark and across New Jersey,” he said.

“For many years, we’ve been focused on ways to lift the health and well-being of the communities we serve — and it’s been proven that economic opportunity plays a major role. Our local investment strategy is a key component of our health equity mission.”

The potential for success is great, the organizers said.

A 2014 report, “Creating an Anchored Local Economy in Newark,” by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, found that shifting 10% of purchasing power from anchor institutions, which include hospitals and universities, to local small businesses would result in diverting $33 million in revenue to the local Newark economy.

This report helped launch the city of Newark’s 2017 Buy Local initiative, in which public and corporate sector partners, including RWJBarnabas Health, New Jersey’s largest integrated academic health care system, increased local spending with small, minority- and women-owned businesses.

Jeanique Druses, vice president, global philanthropy, JPMorgan Chase, said the blueprint for success is there.

“Newark has a good foundation to promote local economic growth through the ‘Hire. Buy. Live.’ Newark initiative, and we wanted to support the effort and help accelerate the results,” she said.

“The Ascend model is working so well around the country, connecting small businesses led by people of color to contracting opportunities with anchor institutions, while also preparing them to successfully fulfill those contracts through management education and access to money to cover the costs of doing business at a new scale.”

In an effort to create more economic opportunity in Newark, CUEED will also connect the Ascend entrepreneurs to support organizations in the city, including Greater Newark Enterprises Corp. and Greater Newark LISC. Those organizations will collaborate with other economic development and entrepreneurship organizations in Newark to provide working capital loans and contract-specific financing to companies that have contracts with RWJBH, helping them win more business with the anchor institution.

The national Ascend program was created at the University of Washington Foster School of Business to enable businesses owned by people of color to thrive by focusing on management, markets and money. The Foster School of Business found the median white-owned firm has revenue 1.5 times that of the median Latinx-owned firm and five times that of the median Black-owned firm. These discrepancies are generated by systemically limited access to resources, including access to contract relationships.

Daryl Shore, vice president of inclusive solutions at Prudential, said the longtime Newark institution is eager to help.

“Prudential was founded in Newark more than 145 years ago, and our roots here run deep and wide,” he said. “We’re doing more than ever now to help close the financial divide in our hometown.

“Small businesses are critical to a thriving city and Prudential has increased grant capital and procurement spend to support diverse businesses in Newark. Ascend Newark enhances how we connect with local, diverse-owned businesses and partner together.”