The Foundry, a joint effort between Fordham and New York City’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS), provides a collaborative space in which Fordham students, alumni, and staff, as well as other entrepreneurs, can launch small businesses and access NYC Business Solutions services. The Foundry’s mission is explicitly linked to job creation in the Bronx, and a connection to the private sector is integral to that.
Donna Rapaccioli, Ph.D., dean of Gabelli, said that partnering with corporations like BNP Paribas is vital to the University’s neighborhood outreach efforts and to the success of the Foundry. “A big part of what the Fordham Schools of Business do is to create bridges between the academic world and the corporate world, and between the academic world and the community. So for us, this is creating a triangle that really is at the heart of what we’re trying to achieve,” she said.
Jean-Yves Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas North America, said that BNP’s commitment to local communities, in this case the Bronx, is what attracted the bank to Fordham and to the Fordham Foundry. BNP Paribas decided last year to deepen its regional approach to corporate social responsibility initiatives, and with its largest operations in the New York City area, the Bronx was a natural fit.
“The Fordham Foundry’s goal to create businesses that remain in the Bronx, sparking economic growth and job creation, is directly aligned with BNP Paribas’ commitment to social inclusion, diversity and education,” Fillion said.
The arrangement with the Foundry is just the beginning of Fordham and BNP Paribas’ partnership. “We envision leveraging the talents and skills of our philanthropic-minded employees to provide technical assistance to the Foundry on a voluntary basis. The Foundry is a natural fit for BNP Paribas’ employees, given the overlap between banking, job creation, and business,” Fillion said. “We are inspired by the clear goals of Fordham University’s leaders, and we look forward to exploring other complementary ventures as well.”
Foundry Co-director Christine Janssen-Selvadurai, Ph.D., director of the entrepreneurship program at Gabelli, said she looks forward to the one-on-one relationships that will develop as a result of the partnership. BNP Paribas employees will volunteer their time as mentors. In addition, there will be opportunities for BNP employees to become fellows with the Foundry, and there are also plans to establish an executive education program they can take advantage of.
“We both look at this as a long-term partnership and not just a one-off. There are so many angles and so many different paths we can take,” Janssen-Selvadurai said. “My favorite word for the Foundry is access—access to our members, access to our mentors, access to experts, access to continued education and workshops and all those supportive roles.”
Mitchell Fillet, lecturer in finance in the Schools of Business and Foundry co-director, concurred, saying that it’s significant that the bank is willing to partner with the Foundry and work with residents of the city’s poorest borough. “BNP Paribas understands their activity will have the greatest impact here in the Bronx,” said Fillet. “The fact that they can have a 170-year-old nationally ranked institution as their partner gives them a sense of comfort that their resources are going to have a true impact on our area, and not just be a little window dressing.”
BNP Paribas, which has a presence in 78 countries with nearly 200,000 employees and a strong presence in North America through its corporate and investment bank and its large retail network in the western United States, has already provided a donation to help with technical assistance to the Foundry, which opened its doors in March. The bank is also researching the possibility of lending to a microfinance fund at the Foundry that would provide microloans to entrepreneurs. This will be an integral part of the Foundry’s mission of supporting Bronx-area business development.
Microloans are key to that community connection. Rapaccioli said it’s very much in keeping with the maxim, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he’ll feed himself for the rest of his life.”
“Often the types of loans these individuals are looking for are not the types traditional banks will entertain. They don’t have the collateral, and sometimes the amounts are too small for banks to be interested in servicing these types of loans. So from our perspective, we’re filling a real need in the community,” she said
The microloans are initially going to be for $5,000 or less—enough for someone to launch a business and build up their credit, but not so much that they might become overwhelmed. Eventually, Janssen-Selvadurai said the plan is to build an investment fund for larger projects.