Ascending to $1 Billion

Michael Verchot (center) with Jacqueline Neal, President of the Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council (left) and Tiffany Bussey, Director of the Morehouse Entrepreneurship Center in Atlanta at the 2018 Ascend National Conference.

On May 12, Phyllis Campbell, chairman of the Pacific Northwest for JPMorgan Chase, announced an $8 million philanthropic investment in expanding the nationwide Ascend network developed by the Consulting and Business Development Center at the UW Foster School of Business. This investment will animate the Center’s ambitious three-year effort to grow 500 people of color owned businesses into multi-million-dollar firms that build wealth.

“Ascend is a proven model for supporting diverse-owned small businesses and connecting underserved entrepreneurs with the resources they need,” said Campbell. “We are proud to expand our partnership with the University of Washington to support diverse small businesses and help rebuild a more inclusive economy.”

With this new investment in Ascend, the Consulting and Business Development Center plans to further leverage partnerships—with business schools, nonprofit business lenders and regulated financial institutions, corporations and institutional and government agencies across its 14-city network—to grow 400 businesses to earn revenues of more than $1 million; 75 to earn revenues of more than $5 million, and 25 to the $10 million+ revenue level.

  • Research Driven – Ascend’s strategy grows from academic research and external evaluation ensures continuous performance improvement.
  • Business School Leadership – Ascend is the first nation-wide effort led by business schools to address the systemic gaps in access to management skills development for business founders.
  • Ecosystem Strategy – Ascend, for the first time, brings together business school education; corporations, local governments, and anchor institutions including hospitals that offer contracting and supply chain partnership opportunities lenders and equity investors to meet the external financing needs of growing businesses.

This nationwide initiative grows from the pioneering work of Emeritus Professor Thaddeus Spratlen, beginning in the 1960s, to engage business schools in communities of color. And it continues through the ongoing research of Emeritus Dean William Bradford. Spratlen and Bradford, along with their research colleagues, identified three key components to business success: highly skilled business managers and leaders who can grow businesses, money through loans and investments to support business growth, and market access to corporate, government, institutional, and individual customers. In recent years, Bradford’s research, along with that of the retired Wayne State University economics professor, Timothy Bates, has identified that there are systemic gaps in access to these management, money, and markets for people of color who own and operate small businesses.

Ascend is an effort, at scale, to repair these systemic gaps.

Since 2009, JPMorgan Chase has invested more than $13 million in the center’s work. Its financial support since 2016—along with engagement from its bankers, procurement teams, and philanthropic leaders–has helped to the center build the nation’s largest entrepreneurial support ecosystem network specifically focused on growing businesses owned by people of color.

Over the last five years, Ascend has helped more than 200 businesses raise $23.7 million in capital, generate $360 million in revenue, and create 2,615 jobs. Last year, during the pandemic, Ascend networks in just seven cities helped companies generate $85 million in new revenue. Now with Ascend ecosystems operating in 14 cities, the race is on to add 500 more multi-million businesses in three years.

As the Foster School’s Purpose Statement says: Together we foster leaders, we foster insights, and we foster progress to better humanity.