February 22, 2023
Executive Assistant and NextGen Coordinator, Strategic Alliances, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Chairman, President, and CEO, Perkins Management Services Company and Fuddruckers
Chairman and CEO, B&C Associates Inc.
CEO and Founder, Lisette Lavergne Law, PC
Black-owned businesses remain critical to the United States’ economic success and global competitiveness. According to the U.S. Joint Economic Committee, there are over 3 million Black-owned businesses in the country, contributing over $200 billion to the economy each year and employing approximately 1.2 million Americans. That number only continues to increase over time, with more and more young people joining the ranks of entrepreneurship.
At a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Equality of Opportunity event, Black business owners and leaders discussed the enduring power of entrepreneurship, the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and potential pathways to success for rising Black professionals.
The Past: The Civil Rights Movement and the Business Community Were Initially at Odds
Robert “Bob” Brown, Chairman and CEO at B&C Associates Inc., shared his experiences as a liaison between the business community and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
“The business community and the Civil Rights Committee were at odds at the very beginning … because nobody was ready for this revolution to take place,” he explained. “The business community was totally unprepared because Black people had never reacted this way before, so they needed some guidance as [to] what to do, where to go, and how to do it.”
Brown’s insights and expertise as a Black business and communications professional helped him to bridge the gap between the two parties, allowing for a more cooperative path forward.
The Present: Growing Black Entrepreneurship Requires an Equitable Playing Field
Nicholas Perkins, Chairman, President, and CEO of Perkins Management Services Company and Fuddruckers, believes entrepreneurship is “the gateway to economic independence” — especially for people of color, who have been historically disadvantaged and underrepresented.
Though the U.S. has made progress in supporting minority entrepreneurship, he also noted that “there is a lot of work that needs to be done to create a more equitable playing field for access to capital, contracts, and opportunities for minorities in our countries.”
According to a recent study, U.S. Black startup founders received just 1% of venture capital in 2022, despite an overall increase in Black businesses in the country.
“There must be more intentionality to hold financial institutions responsible for lending practices … [that] prop up, finance, and fund businesses operated and owned by minorities,” Perkins said. “I would love to see our government get involved and leverage some of its agencies to step up and provide lending opportunities to minority-owned businesses.”
“When you look at where our gross domestic product could be, absent of discrimination, it shows that the support of small, women-owned, and minority-owned businesses strengthens our nation’s global economy,” Perkins emphasized.
The Future: Leveraging Resources and Experiences Can Help Young Entrepreneurs Thrive
Taking the leap into entrepreneurship can be daunting, particularly for young professionals from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. Especially when access to capital and mentorship is limited, entrepreneurs can leverage other resources to grow.
“I’m currently a Gen Z, so my Gen Z-ers might be able to relate, but my biggest resource has been YouTube,” said Sean Roberts, Founder of CSR Consulting. “If I’m curious about a business or I want to learn something new, I always start with YouTube.”
Lisette Lavergne, CEO and Founder of Lisette Lavergne Law, PC, recommends researching and leveraging additional resources, such as grants and guidance from the Small Business Administration. She also reminds aspiring leaders they may have more of a foundation to draw from than they think.
“Working at a large law firm was quite an advantage … because I learned a lot about processes, systems, and how law firms actually work, and there was mentorship, so there was a very solid foundation,” Lavergne said. “By the time I started my own business, I had a lot of tools.”
“Learning from your past experiences can really help you build that solid foundation that you need,” she continued. “Direct and indirect [work, and] even work that I did as an intern … was really valuable, because ultimately, it’s about building your skillset [and] adding value to the services that you provide.”
From the Series