Entrepreneur Spotlight
John Henry '95 smiling in blue pinstripe suit with colorful pink/purple tie and pocket square
Photo Credit: TML Communications
John Henry ’95 built two successful careers fueled by his desire for purpose-driven work.

Bridging the Digital Divide

by Patrick Broadwater
John Henry ’95 has always been a strategic risk-taker.

After Bucknell, he attended the Washington and Lee University School of Law, and before turning 27, he established himself as a real estate attorney for one of the largest law firms in the world. But the status (and the paycheck) wasn’t the pinnacle for him.

When the opportunity arose, he traded Washington, D.C., for Syracuse, N.Y., and joined one of the largest developers of private shopping centers in the country. A year later, Henry was breaking ground on a 400,000-square-foot mall in Carlisle, Pa. “It was empowering,” he says. “I needed to know how the deal was cut. That was the piece I was missing. I took a huge pay cut. Everyone thought I was crazy.”

Like many entrepreneurs, Henry’s road to success was not linear. He built two successful, traditional careers, gleaning from them the knowledge and skills that allow him to pursue the purpose-driven work he now leads as the founder, chairman and CEO of two Philadelphia-based social impact firms.

While working on affordable housing development across the Southeast in the early 2000s, Henry was struck by the multitude of factors that contribute to and reinforce poverty in low-wealth communities. He recognized energy and telecommunications as two sectors where disparities seemed the greatest. Marshaling his background in law, finance, real estate and infrastructure, he created two companies to help solve those issues.

In 2010, he started Chariot Companies, which creates public-private partnerships focused on telecommunications, energy, health care and real estate to direct funds and resources to low-resource communities. Then in 2015, with Jared Brody ’95, he built upon Chariot’s efforts to found Grace3 Technologies, a nationally certified minority small business. The firm specializes in manufacturing and reselling critical networking and communications equipment to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, departments of public safety and first responders, among others. Grace3 commits no less than 20% of its net profits to deliver reliable connectivity and STEM education programs focused on drones and cybersecurity to communities of color throughout the United States.

“Digital inequity and the digital divide really irritated me,” Henry says. “To learn 21st century skills, you need reliable internet, and communities in rural and urban areas were not being served with reliable broadband they could afford. That’s why we entered into the fray.”

In addition to providing technology solutions to keep first responders and communities safe and well-informed, Grace3 gives local students opportunities to participate in cutting-edge science and design education programs. For example, Chariot Scholars is a free after-school intensive program that challenges students to build an enhanced computer network to research indoor air quality. And the Xtreme5 Teen Tech Summit introduced 160 Philadelphia students from underserved backgrounds to emerging technologies, drones and artificial intelligence.

Henry has shown he’s willing to take risks to fill in knowledge gaps and create opportunity — even if it’s the less conventional path.

“During my journey, I noticed that in certain spaces there were very few people that looked like me. I wanted to change that. I’ve been very fortunate to have people in my life who have inspired me,” Henry says. Those people include Ernest Green, a member of the Little Rock Nine; W. Wilson Goode, the first Black mayor of Philadelphia; Darius Jones, the founder and president of the National Black Empowerment Council; and friends and mentors who embraced Henry later in life.

“I have a mindset: Thoughts become things,” he says. “Good energy attracts good energy. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good energy around me. It makes life a lot more fun.”