Revolve Fund Invests in Baltimore’s Entrepreneurs of Color
Revolve Fund, a Baltimore-based philanthropic initiative, addresses the barriers that disproportionately prevent businesses and nonprofits led by people of color from accessing financial capital. With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, other philanthropic organizations and individual donors, Revolve offers seed money that helps entrepreneurs of color attract other investors and funders.
As part of this arrangement, entrepreneurs agree to repay these funds without interest as they achieve established financial milestones. Revolve then applies these repayments to other businesses and nonprofits led by people of color.
“Revolve Fund is pioneering a very exciting approach to entrepreneurial investment here in Baltimore,” says Sara Cooper, a senior associate with the Casey Foundation’s Baltimore Civic Site team. “The recoverable grant strategy helps bridge the gap between Baltimore’s entrepreneurs of color and the capital small or medium-sized businesses need to thrive.”
Connecting Businesses to Capital
Revolve initially partnered with Maryland Philanthropy Network, which serves as the fund’s fiscal sponsor. It then secured grant support from PNC Bank, the Straus Foundation and the Casey Foundation and went on to raise roughly $2 million from local and national funders.
James Wahls, Revolve’s founder and managing director, previously worked at the Casey Foundation. He notes that the initiative’s funding model was inspired by his time with the philanthropy.
“My work at the Casey Foundation, including conceptualizing and developing the Baltimore Small Business Support Fund, provided me with critical insights on ways to better support businesses and nonprofits that are led by people of color,” says Wahls. “Revolve’s recoverable grant strategy and underwriting approach create a funding cycle where all parties truly benefit. Revolve represents an opportunity to support emerging, qualified entrepreneurs and organizations with the capital they need.”
Investing in Greenmount West
One Revolve grant recipient, Greenmount West Community Center Foundation, offers programming in theater, sewing, fitness, creative writing and more to youth and young adults in Baltimore’s Station North Arts District. Greenmount West is also home to the Greenmount West Power Press, a social enterprise business that teaches young people how to create and sell screen printed posters and clothing items.
“Revolve Fund is creating a master class for what philanthropic giving should be in Baltimore and beyond,” says Kisha L. Webster, executive director and co-founder of Greenmount West Community Center Foundation. “Not only did James ask important questions to better understand our mission and vision, but I also found being held accountable by a funder — and pushed to do more and be more — incredibly empowering. Every day, they are demonstrating the importance of productive funding relationships and intentionally investing in local entrepreneurs.”