Annual Report 2023

Letter From Our

President & CEO   


Fay Horwitt Headshot

Fay Horwitt, Forward Cities President & CEO

Dear Forward Cities Community,

As we reflect on the past year and anticipate the future, our mission has never felt more urgent. In 2023, amidst a backdrop of troubling anti-DEI legislation and a concerning rollback of racial equity progress, Forward Cities stood firm in its commitment to dismantle barriers and uplift underrepresented entrepreneurs. These challenging times have underscored the necessity of our work, as the entrepreneurs we support face not only the usual hurdles of business but also systemic injustices that threaten to deepen existing inequities. Forward Cities is doubling down on our efforts to increase wealth-building opportunities for Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous entrepreneurs. The best way to do that is to ensure they are surrounded by densely-connected and equitable networks of support.

Building entrepreneurial support systems that can serve a more diverse population of entrepreneurs is a complex task that requires a distinctive set of skills, and leaders with those skills are in short supply. The individuals leading this work currently have few opportunities to interact with and support each other across communities. Moreover, they tend to burn out quickly and are difficult to replace. We have concluded that this shortage of leaders is a critical constraint to achieving our long-term vision of giving every entrepreneur an equitable chance to launch and grow a business that generates wealth for themselves, their families, and their communities.

In response, Forward Cities is actively emerging two distinct action learning networks to meet these unique needs - serving as a beacon of hope and transformation.

Four women standing on a stage

The BWSF Durham pilot project, "Black Wall Street Mindset,” provided an interactive experience for local entrepreneurs designed to create meaningful connections and collaborations.

Black Wall Street Forward, an initiative originally designed to shift narratives for Black entrepreneurs, was expanded to include capacity building and pilot funding for local Black leaders and committed ecosystem builders. The results of the Black Wall Street Forward initiative have been promising, engendering expanded philanthropic investment. Through the generous support of funding partners, we are in the process of developing a strategic plan to scale the footprint and impact of the program.

Our emergent E3 Nation action learning network will focus on equipping community-wide entrepreneurial support systems to serve underrepresented entrepreneurs. In 2022, we piloted the network through dynamic, 3-day community learning experiences with ecosystem stakeholders and entrepreneurs in Douglas County, KS and Sacramento, CA. Partnering with EcoMap, we designed an innovative program for passionate place-based changemakers - modeling the future of the network. 

Both E3 Nation and Black Wall Street Forward are crucial to our mission, as they provide not only support but also a counter-narrative to the increasing challenges posed by regressive policies.

Our efforts have fostered robust networks that empower entrepreneurs of color to thrive against these adversities, thanks to the resilience of our community and the dedication and courage of our partners and funders. 

A woman pointing to a flyer on a table. Two other women are standing next to her, looking at the flyer.

The E3 Durham program hosted monthly Pull-Up at Provident networking events that featured small business workshops, resource tables, and opportunities to network.

Both networks will be supported by learning labs and local initiatives designed to generate new knowledge and insights to inform the work of the networks and to build the field. Our E3 Durham program, supported through ARPA funding from Durham County affords us a unique opportunity to leverage our learnings from 40+ communities to lead an equitable ecosystem strategy and innovative model to lower the cost of doing business for Durham entrepreneurs through the implementation of a community-centric learn-to-earn program.

Looking ahead to 2024, the landscape remains fraught with challenges as well-organized and well-funded anti-DEI efforts persist. However, Forward Cities is more determined than ever to expand our impact through our action-learning networks. Our goals are not just ambitious; they are essential. Our action-learning network strategy will allow us to scale impact far beyond what would be possible through direct service alone - equipping leaders and communities across the country to build more resilient and inclusive economic ecosystems. 

I call on each of you to stand with us as we navigate these turbulent times. Your support, engagement, and collaboration are vital as we endeavor to make 2024 a year of significant advancement towards our vision of equitable economic growth. Together, we can overcome these challenges and continue building pathways to success for every entrepreneur and community we touch.

Thank you for your unwavering commitment to our cause.

Let’s continue to build forward, catalyze change, and ensure that every step we take is a step toward justice and equity.


Warm regards,

Fay Horwitt

President & CEO     

Program Year in Review

In 2023, Forward Cities worked in 21 cities and regions across 15 states.

Pete Carlson headshotThe most significant development in 2023 was a strategic shift to make pursuing racial equity more central to our work. Forward Cities is currently in the best financial condition in its 10-year history. We are poised for growth and looking forward to joining with others in 2024.

Pete Carlson, Board Chair

Staff convened ecosystem builders and representatives in 18 learning cohorts to assess need and address barriers to equitable entrepreneurship.

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Facilitated collaboration among more than 80 groups of entrepreneurial support organizations and stakeholders in 21 cities and regions across 15 states.

E3 Durham logoE3 Durham

Utilizing a “hub and spoke” model, the E3 Durham Community Navigator Program supported the development of a stronger network of local entrepreneur support organizations, improving trust and collaboration between institutional and grassroots organizations in Durham, NC. Forward Cities served as the lead organization, or “hub” and spokes included: Durham Tech Small Business Center, Echo, Infinity Bridges, Inc., Knox St. Studios, North Carolina Central University School of Business, and Provident1898.

E3 Durham entrepreneur, Ruben Watson, shares his entrepreneurial journey and experience with working with E3 Durham business counselors to receive insights on expanding his strategy and scope.

"The resources, business community and partner conversations were instrumental in the growth of our education company. We thank everybody who participated with the program."

E3 Durham entrepreneur

In the two years of the SBA-funded E3 Durham program, which wrapped in December 2023, we enrolled 430 entrepreneur clients, delivered 2470 1-1 counseling hours, provided 317 hours of workshops and trainings. Participants pulled down $892K in grants and loans. E3 Durham is relaunching Spring 2024.

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E3 Durham entrepreneur Gina-Marie D'Meza is the passionate small business owner behind Little Homestead Farm Natural Bath and Body.

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Gina-Marie D'Meza, owner of Little Homestead Farm in Durham, NC.
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Wrapped up 7 engagements, and launched PLACE Builders Fellowship, which continues into 2024 along with Black Wall Street Forward.

Black Wall Street Forward logoBlack Wall Street Forward

The Black Wall Street Forward (BWSF) pilot program launched in 2022 and was modeled on the pillars that made Durham's original Black Wall Street successful, with the goal of continuing the legacy of catalyzing Black business owners and champions.

The transformative program engaged five communities throughout the state of North Carolina in a cohort-based learning journey to explore the past and present of Black entrepreneurship in those communities and to take collaborative action to build a better collective future.


Black Wall Street Forward brings together Black leaders and champions to collaboratively shape a sustainable model for the future of thriving, equitably invested, and self-determined Black-centric entrepreneurial communities.

"I want the story of Black entrepreneurship in my community to be one of access, growth, and possibility. Black businesses/business ecosystem and talent is a solid investment. I want this to be more widely visible and supported."

BWSF Stewardship Council Member


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Personnel: 54%

Program Services: 29%

Administrative: 16%

Fund Development: 1%

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Restricted Grants: 90%

Unrestricted Grants/Gifts: 2%

Program Contracts and Fees: 8%

Board of Directors 2024

We are indebted to our Board of Directors for guiding Forward Cities.

Pete Carlson, Chair
Demetra Brown
Christina Cain
Lauren Paul
Trevor Smith
Fay Horwitt, Ex Officio


Thank you to our 2023 Collaborators

Funders and Partners

BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting
Carlsen Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship
City of Raleigh
City of Sacramento
Douglas County Community Foundation
Douglas County, KS
Durham County, NC
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
JP Morgan Chase
Lawrence Chamber of Commerce
Main Street America
MetLife Foundation
Network Kansas
New Growth Innovation Network (NGIN)
New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association
Sacramento Municipal Utility District
Small Business Administration
Target Foundation
Truist Foundation

Community Partners

City of Durham
Community Building Initiative
EcoMap Technologies
Hustle Winston-Salem
Infinity Bridges, Inc
Knox St. Studios
NCCU School of Business
Small Business Center at Durham Tech
Provident 1898

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