Frank + Oak launches grant for entrepreneurs

The fund will give cash and educational opportunities to startup founders, split equally between men and women.

Frank + Oak is helping entrepreneurs and startups establish themselves by starting a new initiative called The 50/50 Founders Fund.

Going forward, 1% from every item sold by Frank + Oak will help fund at least four $10,000 seed-stage grants that will be given to entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada. Exactly half of the funding will be directed to female entrepreneurs and female-founded startups, with the other half going to men.

Frank + Oak is also working with General Assembly – a company focused on providing education and training in skills like coding, data and business – on the program, and fund recipients will receive educational credit for General Assembly courses. Grant winners will also have access to advice and guidance from an advisory board of seasoned business leaders and experts.

Those wishing to apply can do so on the website. In the new year, financial analysts will screen applications to ensure they meet the requirements and are financially viable enough to warrant funding. An independent, six-person board (whose members have yet to be announced but will only include one person from Frank + Oak) will meet and select their favourite ideas, which will then be posted on the company’s social channels for the public to vote on.

From beginning to end, the entire selection and funding process is expected to take several weeks. At least two of the grants will be given out in the first year, with the possibility for more depending on interest from applicants.

Eric Alper, CMO at Frank + Oak, says the new fund is a way for the company to put its money behind supporting the “entrepreneurial mentality” that has been a major part of its brand over the years.

“This isn’t some surprise initiative we’re pulling out of a hat,” he says, pointing to the fact that people like A-Trak, Philippe Cousteau, Danny Bowien, Jennifer Puno and Elizabeth Plank have appeared in the company’s creative materials and hosted talks in-store over the years. “We’ve always celebrated entrepreneurs, they’re our brand heroes. We’ve done research around our customers, and it confirms that a lot of them have an entrepreneurial mindset. It’s not enough to just show an entrepreneur in a picture with our products or shooting a video with them. We wanted to take action in support of that mentality.”

Alper adds that the fund’s educational opportunities are as important as the cash.

“It’s easy for someone to write a cheque, but to give them continuing advice and education is something we’re really proud of and hope will make just as much of a difference in people’s lives as the money,” he says.

The fact that Frank + Oak launched its first collection of women’s wear this year was a motivating factor in pursuing an initiative that supported equality. In its announcement of the fund, the company cited a TechCrunch report that said only 15.6% of seed funding between 2009 and 2014 went to companies with female founders. The same report found that only 10% of venture funding went to companies with female founders.

“We’re know we’re not going to be the source of venture funding for everyone out there and completely solve this problem,” Alper says. “But we still want to send a message that we are supporting equal opportunity. Social purpose is definitely a cornerstone of a lot of millennial brands’ marketing initiatives, but we don’t want to be in the philanthropy space. A truth that governs this generation is that the ideas of the future are not a given, they’re for them to create. They’re not going to come from giant companies that aren’t being responsive to their customers’ needs. They’re going to come from the next generation of people who aren’t playing by rules set by the people who came before them. We want to be the brand of those people and those ideas.”