A Year At Propeller

6 years, 130 graduate entrepreneurs, and why we’re focusing on racial justice.

26 July 2017

Dear Friends,

We are excited to share with you our work from this past year in our 2016 annual report. It has been six years since Propeller began the work of supporting the brilliant entrepreneurs working to solve the social and environmental issues facing our city. Over those years, we have graduated over 130 ventures from our programs and, through their successes, we are starting to see positive change. Since 2011, Propeller entrepreneurs have generated over $82 million in revenue and financing and expanded our city’s workforce by 310 jobs. 

As we have worked with our entrepreneurs to solve issues in food, water, health, and education, a preponderance of data has shown that it is impossible to take on these issues without acknowledging that New Orleanians’ quality of life and opportunities for success continue to be divided along racial lines.

This past year, 69% of families of color in Orleans Parish were liquid asset poor, meaning they do not have the savings to stay above the poverty line in the event of an income disruption like a job loss or medical emergency, compared to just 29% of white families. New Orleans’ Black households are also six times more likely than white households to live under the poverty line ($23,850 or less for a family of four).[1]

Within our sectors, though the achievement gap in Orleans Parish has improved compared to Louisiana statewide, 2014 state tests show there remains a 24% difference between Black and white students scoring at basic or above.[2] Communities of color are still the most likely to live in low-elevation areas most vulnerable to flooding and subsidence.[3] The life expectancy is 25 years lower in New Orleans’ poorest neighborhoods compared to that of our most affluent.[4] These disparities aren’t accidental, they are the result of generational cycles of racial oppression and privilege.

This year, we revised our mission and vision statements to clarify our focus on pursuing racial equity across all areas where we work. We received national validation and support for our strategy with the award of a new grant award from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and continued support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

As a proud member of the entrepreneurship community, we hold ourselves accountable to ensuring our city’s startup renaissance includes and empowers entrepreneurs of color and the minority-owned businesses that have contributed to our city’s economy for generations. Although 60% of New Orleanians identify as Black, Black residents own only 27% of the city’s businesses, and, more concerning, minority businesses receive less than 2% of receipts.[5] Nearly half our city’s Black men are unemployed.

As a part of our commitment, we are working to increase access to capital for women and entrepreneurs of color. This year, we continued to offer equity investments through our Growth Accelerator and proudly announced a commitment from Living Cities that will enable us to develop our nascent loan fund in partnership with the Foundation for Louisiana.

We acknowledge and thank partners and leaders who have been doing this work for decades before we were founded. We look to them and to the communities that make up our city to inform our work moving forward. It has taken generations to build racism and oppression into our city’s and our country’s systems and institutions, and it will take time and deliberate collaboration to correct for them. 

Our work in the coming year will rely on bringing people together – to learn from existing organizers, to listen to our neighbors and partners, and to connect innovators at all levels who can exchange ideas and pursue new solutions together.

You are a critical part of this process – our advocates, volunteers, partners, and friends. We thank you for your ideas, time, and resources and invite you to join us as we step into 2017.

In gratitude,

Andrea Chen

Executive Director and co-Founder,
Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation

Propeller 2016 Annual Report