This has been a year of biblical proportions, with almost too many historic events to count. Among everyone 2020 has brought our way, one of the most positive has been Kamala Harris, the first female and person of color to become the Vice President of the USA.
Harris epitomizes the best of a new, more diverse country–mixed race, born of immigrants, and a self-made success. From King to Obama to Harris we have come a long way, but as consequential as they are, they represent only a fragment of the black and brown American experience.
Black and brown entrepreneurs have always been an economic force in America, in 2020 creating 4.7 million jobs and $700 billion in revenue. At the same time, they're too often the most impacted by significant events. For example, in 2020, we saw a 41% decline in black businesses, as a direct result of COVID-19 (Creative Investment Research). Although corporates pledged over $40 billion to support BLM, the majority of funds will be slowly allocated over time, through layers of bureaucracy, while the need to access funds is urgent.
Most modern polls, even those using sophisticated data algorithms, find it almost impossible to get an accurate picture of what's really happening with minority businesses. Collecting data via Prox, we met with a cross-section of small business owners, male and female, immigrant and non-immigrant, a writer, a fitness influencer, a business coach and a professional soccer player to name a few, to gain a realistic perspective into the current lives of black and brown entrepreneurs. What lessons they can share from their path to business ownership? What can we do to support them and other aspiring entrepreneurs?
The path to entrepreneurship. Becoming an entrepreneur was not by happenstance. Black and brown entrepreneurs chose the path to entrepreneurship out of pure motivation, drive, passion, and had a role model who helped to inspire their journey. At the same time, a little less than half took to entrepreneurship out of necessity.
Business ownership. Over half of the respondents owned more than one business, and despite current economic conditions, continue to see a level of profitability.
General challenges. Access to capital, resources, and mentorship remains to be the biggest challenge faced by black and brown entrepreneurs. Lending discrimination, customer discrimination, community and family pushback persist, but remain isolated.
Impact of the pandemic. Even against all odds, half of our interviewees saw growth during the pandemic; however, the other half saw a negative impact due to shutdowns. And while major corporations seemed to benefit from government loans and grants during the pandemic, none of our black and brown businesses received any form of government support.
Black Lives Matter. While the BLM movement created more awareness and mainly had a positive impact, no one in our group received any direct investment or funding.
Their advice for other entrepreneurs?
SBA, PTAC, and other organizations to network with and find ways of finding clients
It's ok not to have a blueprint that looks like other businesses to be successful. Many times, we are told it has to operate a certain way to be successful, and that's not true. We just need the right mentors and thought partners around us to help us both realize this and not get distracted by chasing a mission that isn't true to what our vision is.
Find a mentor.
- Tash Salas
Stay focused, persistent and consistent.
Work your network. A healthy network is filled with different types of people with different strengths. You must help each other and together you all rise.
Make sure to read up before starting especially if you don't have a mentor. Don't be hesitant to ask other successful people that are in your field for advice.
- Djenane Fleurentin
Suddenly, I realized the difference was pretty clear. I'd never really thought of myself as a minority before. I hadn't felt like I was treated much differently than my peers. However, while trying to build a business based on influence, I began to feel that disparity. There will always be bias, but that doesn't mean you can't thrive. Sometimes it means we have to work a little or a lot harder than others in order to break through, but you can, and you will breakthrough.
Keep showing up. Even when you feel alone and unrepresented, and experience rejection over and over. Keep showing up. The more you show up for yourself, the more you pave the way for those who come after you. You might be a model for someone, just like those models I looked up to.
- Kimberlee Morrison
Spend quality time assessing your values, skills, talents and vision. Make sure they are aligned before moving forward with your business.
Learn how to communicate and how to influence people with integrity. Trust yourself and your talent. Cultivate a relentless pursuit of your goals and implementation of small action steps. Learn how to model, time blocking for outcomes, innovate and measure. Never give up :)
Advice to everyone, how you can help.
Hire us, give us a try to get a new outlook on things
Trust minority-owned businesses to do what they feel is best for their organization instead of providing funding that comes with a bunch of obligations and requirements that are necessary to meet. Unrestricted dollars that are provided are one of the best ways you can support an entrepreneur who is carving a new path instead of deciding for them what's best for them by restricting how they can use the funding you provide.
Give them business and referrals:)
- Tash Salas
Look for causes that you care about and understand the business.
Entrepreneurs may know that they need help but don't know what they need. Money is not always the answer and help needs to be very targeted and specific.
Don't judge whether a minority business is worthy of your financial investment by its cover. Support more startups that have skin in the game.
- Djenane Fleurentin
It depends on the minority-owned party. For me, if someone were to ask me how they could help my business, the first thing I would say is to share my business. Help me reach more people who might be interested in my services. If they were interested in working with me personally, even better! I'm happy to discuss partnerships to get more reviews and testimonies to grow. As a group, listening, learning, and helping to educate.
Come to terms with your own implicit bias, and then do the work to dismantle that bias. For most of us, that's practising a new level of self-awareness and checking our privilege on a daily basis. Then become intentional about using your own privilege to help underrepresented people in your industry.
- Kimberlee Morrison
Identify needs and root causes before providing what you "think" these entities need.
Understand what the biggest challenges are. Listen first. See your future in them: support and monitor. Celebrate the wins. Keep building.