Female business owner in restaurant
There are many ways the U.S. government and business leaders can work together to build a supportive ecosystem for Black-owned businesses. — Getty Images/ljubaphoto

Despite the United States’ rich history of Black entrepreneurship and innovation, the economic potential of supporting Black business owners has yet to be fully realized. As of 2021, Black-owned businesses were less than half as likely as white-owned businesses to obtain all of their requested funding.

To change these circumstances, the U.S. government and business leaders can work together to build a supportive ecosystem for Black-owned businesses. Doing so has the potential to simultaneously improve access to funding and resources for underserved entrepreneurs and bolster the national economy.

Here are four ways to begin investing in a more robust Black-owned business ecosystem in the United States, according to experts at the recent Developing the Black-Owned Business Ecosystem event from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Understand the factors contributing to the Black entrepreneurship boom

Between the pandemic, an evolving business climate and the still-present glass ceiling, the U.S. saw a significant increase in Black-owned startups between 2019 and 2020.

According to Dean Anthony D. Wilbon of the Howard University School of Business, “People have gotten frustrated with the opportunities for advancement [and] are bumping their heads against the [glass] ceiling.”

“The season of the great resignation has opened up a period of the great reimagination,” added Tashion Macon, chief marketing officer for Sky’s The Limit. “Persons of color are re-imagining their … personal and professional lives.”

Dean Wilbon also noted that amid the rise of the gig economy, the risk of starting a business had been reduced. This, he said, makes it easier for people to “digest [entrepreneurship] as a possibility.”

[Read more: Open for Business: What You Need to Know About the Pandemic Startup Wave]

Create access and investment opportunities

Building opportunities specifically designed to bolster Black business owners — including networking and support groups, educational resources, mentorship programs, and financing — all contribute to a supportive Black-owned business ecosystem.

This ecosystem helped Joshua Funches, president and founder of the National Youth Bike Council, start his own business in 2017.

“Some things that were particularly important to my growth was access to funding, access to jobs [and] professional and peer networks,” Funches explained.

Get involvement across the business cycle

Though investment in Black-owned businesses is critical, developing a lasting and supportive ecosystem requires support during all stages in the business cycle.

“The ecosystem includes everything from corporate entities and partners [to] other entrepreneurs,” said Dean Wilbon. “Everybody has an opportunity to contribute to what we’re trying to build here.”

Funches noted that in addition to top stakeholders, the Black-owned business ecosystem should also create a space for new entrepreneurs to connect — a move that would “create a flow of people connecting and seeing the ecosystem thrive.”

[Read more: 9 Funding Options for Black-Owned Businesses]

Promote entrepreneurial resources for and by Black business leaders

Many organizations, headed by Black business leaders, are offering resources specifically geared toward minority entrepreneurs:

Shopify

The e-commerce platform offers a free 120-day trial specifically for Black businesses. According to Ewuraesi Thompson, marketing operations manager at Shopify, this was created to help entrepreneurs learn about the platform as well as “what it takes to market a company, to create a website, [and] put all those things together before you go live.”

Shopify also has a “Build Black Community,” where Black business leaders can engage with each other as well as participate in monthly workshops.

Walker’s Legacy

Walker’s Legacy is primarily geared toward supporting Black women in the entrepreneurial sphere. In addition to offering networking opportunities and valuable connections, the organization offers two targeted business accelerator programs: Women Who Enterprise and PROSPECTUS.

“We want to make sure that women complete this program [and] they have a really solid business plan,” explained Walker’s Legacy CEO Ayris Scales.

Scales added that the organization also focuses on the mental health of its members, including incorporating self-care into their practices and “increasing [women’s] understanding that they are … in the right place at the right time to run [and] lead their businesses.”

Ureeka

Ureeka offers both educational courses and services to support traditionally-underrepresented groups in small business. Melody Jackson, Ureeka’s director of strategic partnerships, reported that the platform is currently offering a free 60-day trial.

“We really know that you will find your place here, and you can ask whatever questions you need and find a community to help you get through those barriers,” said Jackson.

To learn more about the Black-owned business ecosystem and how entrepreneurs can get involved, watch the replay of this panel discussion on U.S. Chamber OnDemand, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Equality of Opportunity Initiative.

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Published February 15, 2022