Aspen Institute Announces Inaugural Urban Innovators

August 6, 2015

Contacts: Eric Lavin
The Urban Innovation Lab/Aspen Ventures
(202) 736-3546

Aspen Institute Announces Inaugural Urban Innovators
Urban Innovation Lab Supports Early Stage Social Enterprises Solving DC Challenges

Washington DC, August 6, 2015 – The Aspen Institute announced today the inaugural class of nine social enterprises participating in the Institute’s new Urban Innovation Accelerator program. The program will support each selected leadership team with a combination of peer-learning, mentorship, key connections, and brand development. This first class is comprised of organizations creating positive impact in the National Capital Region on a range of issues, including: civic engagement, criminal justice, education, government effectiveness, healthy communities, microenterprise development, and workforce development.

“This group of inspiring entrepreneurs are pioneering some of the most innovative models to build a more just world for residents living on the margins of National Capital Region and urban areas across America,” said Eric Lavin, founding manager of the Urban Innovation Lab. “We recruited a diverse set of organizations operating across various impact areas and employing different strategies. Our goal is two-fold: to help these entrepreneurs achieve their compelling visions for better urban life, and to allow these innovators to influence systems-level reform conversations.” Lavin also said that, “The Aspen Institute is well positioned to support these urban innovators and elevate their causes given our robust networks of thought and practitioner leaders, a wealth of experience facilitating high impact peer-learning, and a unique ability to convene leaders to discuss and act on the critical issues of the day.”

According to Jennifer Bradley, the founding director of the Aspen Institute’s Center for Urban Innovation, “The Lab gives the Center for Urban Innovation a chance to learn from these innovators and entrepreneurs in real time and gain insights into the obstacles they face. We will use their experience and perspective to build a research and policy agenda aimed at expanding the number, diversity, and impact of urban innovators not only in National Capital Region, but across the country.”

The inaugural Aspen Urban Innovators are:

  • Baltimore Corps (Fagan Harris): Recruiting talented millennials to join social enterprises (i.e., for-profits with a social mission, government agencies, and non-profits) in Baltimore and Prince George’s County; retaining these corps members and building a highly connected network of social service activity.
  • GirlTrek (Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison): Drawing inspiration from Black history to contextualize health as a civil rights issue, GirlTrek meets women at their point of need with a feasible first step, and turns healthy living into a service opportunity by training women as health leaders in their communities.
  • GovCombinator (Nathaniel Heller and Dennis Whittle in collaboration with Bloomberg Associates): Developing a new model for government service innovation by creating environments where government officials and their civic sector counterparts work together in professionally facilitated “sprints” to achieve breakthrough solutions quickly.
  • Health for America (Ellen Kourakos and Megan Caldwell): Developing new approaches to health care delivery for under-served communities by recruiting talented millennials from diverse background to spend a year embedded in the healthcare system and gaining exposure to key entrepreneurship methods.
  • La Cocina VA (Patricia Funegra): Training DC Metro area low-income Latinos in key food service certifications and connecting them to profitable careers in the culinary industry; exploring ways to support Latino food entrepreneurship by launching a kitchen incubator.
  • Reach Incorporated (Mark Hecker): Closing the literacy gap in Washington, DC, and empowering young people from marginalized communities to have influence on the direction of those communities.
  • Rising Tide Capital (Alex Forrester and Alfa Demmellash): Building wealth in low-income communities by teaching business fundamentals to underserved business owners and helping them navigate their local microenterprise ecosystem.
  • School Justice Project (Claire Blumenson and Sarah Comeau): A legal services and advocacy organization dedicated to serving older students with special education needs who are involved in DC’s justice systems.
  • Service Never Sleeps (Shane Cooke and Whitney Parnell): Developing service leadership in young professionals, activating the potential of corporations, and providing key pro bono services to local nonprofits.

The Urban Innovation Lab supports the development and advancement of meaningful and measureable urban innovation that improves the lives of under-served residents of the National Capital Region.

The Center for Urban Innovation harnesses the innovative power of cities to make them great places for all of their residents, especially those in underserved neighborhoods, to live, work, connect, and flourish.  In our vision, cities are places where entrepreneurs, innovative non-profit actors, and public officials work alongside people from underserved communities to solve long-standing urban problems.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit


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