Through forward-thinking solutions that fill gaps in the current small business ecosystem, nonprofits have the power to influence the future of entrepreneurship in the United States. But many entrepreneurs—especially those who are low-income, underserved, and BIPOC—lack access to traditionally available programming or expertise in functional skills like marketing, business plan writing, and capital raising.  

From Left to Right: Melissa Hoover (Co-Executive Director for Partnerships & Growth, Democracy at Work Institute), Monique Reynolds (VP of ECE Business Support & Sustainability, Quality Care for Children), Jason Hudgins (Director of Strategic Programs, Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative), Lisa Ling (Inspire Awards host, TV personality and author),  Lynette Bell (President, Truist Foundation), Bill Rogers (CEO, Truist Financial Corporation), Aarti Sahgal (Founder & CEO, Synergies Work),  Shlok Shah (Operations & Communications Director, Synergies Work), Dr. Masica Jordan-Alston (Co-founder, Black Wall Street AVL), Kristine Laughter (Director of Kinship Lending, Change Labs), Melinda Weekes-Laidlow (Founder & CEO, Beautiful Ventures)

Truist Foundation and MIT Solve join forces

The Truist Foundation and MIT Solve were thrilled to collaborate in launching the inaugural Inspire Awards in the Spring of 2022. The process identified innovative nonprofit-driven solutions that provide support to grow, develop, and sustain racially diverse and/or women-led small businesses in the United States. Bold solutions that address the challenges faced by small business owners poured in from dozens of nonprofits. In the months leading up to the Inspire Awards, a cohort of seven finalists participated in a capacity-building support program to refine their innovative solutions, strengthen their storytelling, and perfect their pitches.

The live pitch competition event in October drew over 1,200 virtual and in-person attendees and put the Foundation’s commitment to strengthening small businesses across the country on display. From employing a community wealth-building framework to bolster Black businesses, to creating a culturally responsive lending model to Native entrepreneurs rooted in Navajo kinship, we recognize the crucial, grassroots work of all our finalist organizations and are so proud of what they’re doing in their communities.  

Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative

Atlanta ranks high among U.S. cities regarding income inequality. To overcome these disparities, the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative (AWBI) was created to address sustaining and accessing wealth for households of color.

AWBI submitted its 1,000 Black Businesses in 1,000 Days Campaign idea to the Inspire Awards challenge in the hopes of receiving funding to expand local support for Black-owned businesses. On the night of the awards, TV personality and author Lisa Ling announced Jason Hudgins—the Director of Strategic Programs for AWBI—as the first-place recipient of $250,000 in grant funding for AWBI’s community wealth building framework. 

“The goal is that communities of color have all the resources they need to thrive without any barriers. Success will mean we have overcome the systemic bias, racism, and systemic issues, that serve as barriers to the liberation of communities of color.”
– Jason Hudgins, Director of Strategic Programs, Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative

Synergies Work

Historically, entrepreneurship has had a bad reputation in the disability space, often seen as the last option when wage employment and all else failed. Aarti Sahgal created Synergies Work six years ago with the singular intention of providing resources from idea to execution and supporting entrepreneurs with disabilities for two years until they can build a sustainable business. Since launching, Synergies Work has worked with over 200 entrepreneurs with disabilities and launched over 50 startups owned or led by entrepreneurs with disabilities

To further a world where people with disabilities belong, Synergies Work submitted their idea to the Inspire Awards challenge.  They were recognized as the second-place recipient and audience favorite and awarded $225,000 grant to continue their end-to-end support for entrepreneurs with disabilities— focusing on financial capital, social capital, education, and mentorship to bridge the gaps between the business and disability community. 

“When we celebrate entrepreneurs, that should also include entrepreneurs with disabilities.”
– Aarti Sahgal, Founder and CEO of Synergies Work

Supporting entrepreneurs for the long haul

The Truist Foundation is dedicated to opening more doors for racially and ethnically diverse and women-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs by investing in the network of solutions and organizations that support them—and we’re eager to continue the momentum with our 2024 Inspire Awards challenge.


About Truist Foundation

The Truist Foundation is committed to Truist Financial Corporation’s (NYSE: TFC) purpose to inspire and build better lives and communities. Established in 2020, the foundation makes strategic investments in nonprofit organizations to help ensure the communities it serves have more opportunities for a better quality of life. The Truist Foundation’s grants and activities focus on leadership development, economic mobility, thriving communities and educational equity.