February 10, 2022
From prolific African-American innovators to the founders of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, the Black community has a rich entrepreneurial history that continues to this day. Despite this, the economic potential of Black-owned businesses has yet to be fully realized. According to a 2021 Federal Reserve study, Black businesses were less than half as likely as White-owned enterprises to receive full funding for loan applications.
A focus on diversity and inclusion in the small business community isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s critical to America’s economic competitiveness. At the Chamber’s recent event, Developing the Black-Owned Business Ecosystem, Black business leaders discussed the importance and development of an ecosystem to help current and future Black entrepreneurs thrive.
Investing in Black-Owned Businesses Amid the Entrepreneurship Boom
Entrepreneurship in the Black community has risen in recent years, especially amid the pandemic, which has seen a significant boom in people leaving the corporate world to start their own businesses.
“I think what’s happened in recent years is people have gotten frustrated with the opportunities for advancement… and people are bumping their heads against the [glass] ceiling,” said Dean Anthony D. Wilbon of the Howard University School of Business.
“Because of … things like the gig economy … the risk [of starting a business] has come down somewhat and it makes it easier for people to digest starting a business as a possibility,” Dean Wilbon continued. “We see all of that happening, the people jumping out of corporate entities … [and] we have to build an ecosystem to support that.”
Educational institutions and organizations alike are contributing to that ecosystem by providing the educational, networking, and financial resources minority entrepreneurs need to thrive.
“[For] most people of color, it is not an absence of intelligence [or] absence of imagination; it is an absence of investment,” emphasized Tashion Macon, chief marketing officer for Sky’s The Limit. “[So] we offer grants for our entrepreneurs, and there are several other elements in the works so we can elevate this conversation around access.”
Defining the Black-Owned Business Ecosystem and Its Importance
Though investment is a crucial part of supporting Black entrepreneurs, this support must also be integrated into a comprehensive, multifaceted business ecosystem.
“The ecosystem includes everything from corporate entities and partners [to] other entrepreneurs,” explained Dean Wilbon. “I think everybody has an opportunity to contribute to what we’re trying to build here.”
Joshua Funches, founder and president of the National Youth Bike Council, noted the importance of the ecosystem in starting 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. “Being able to create a space for [new entrepreneurs] to connect … would continue to create a flow of people connecting and seeing the ecosystem thrive.”
Tangible Resources for Entrepreneurial Growth, For and By Black Business Leaders
In the spirit of this ecosystem, Black business leaders are sharing resources to support the growth of their fellow entrepreneurs.
“[Our] Build Black Community has over 1,300 merchants in it who are just … engaging with each other and encouraging each other,” said Ewuraesi Thompson, marketing operations manager at Shopify. “In that community, there are monthly workshops as well.”
Ayris Scales, CEO of Walker’s Legacy Foundation, also emphasized the importance of creating a sense of community — especially for Black women, the organization’s primary target audience.
“At Walkers Legacy, we have our Women Who Enterprise (WWE) [and] our PROSPECTUS business accelerator [programs],” Scales shared. “We want to make sure that when women complete this program, they have a really solid business plan.”
Walkers Legacy also works with Ureeka, a platform for entrepreneurs, to provide business resource guides. Melody Jackson, Ureeka’s director of strategic partnerships, encouraged entrepreneurs of underserved communities to “take advantage of all the courses, services, technology and tools that we have as resources.”
“From the first day you [start] a class, there’s something actionable for you to do about your business,” Jackson said.