Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

A local business council created a course to help founders of color with pandemic recovery

The Minority Business Pandemic Recovery Academy is designed for founders in any industry who want advice on pandemic economy. Sessions for the first cohort have already begun.

The Minority Business Pandemic Recovery Academy aims to help underrepresented founders and business owners deal with COVID-19-related recovery.

(Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels)

Even with multiple years of recovery under their belt, founders are still feeling the effects of the pandemic.

From workforce issues to supply chain interruptions to inflation, there’s still work to be done to create a healthy ecosystem that can exist in a post-pandemic world.

The Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council (CRMSDC) thinks it might have found a solution: The Silver Spring, Maryland-based council, in partnership with the US Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency and the Virginia Business Center, created a Minority Business Pandemic Recovery Academy for founders of color.

The academy, which began sessions in May, is a six-week virtual program executed in collaboration with the University of Maryland (UMD) Global Campus. Founders take part in a 90-minute weekly session that is facilitated by the Global Campus’s School of Business Management. Sessions topics include executive leadership, financial management, cybersecurity for leaders and managers, human resource management, COVID-related business practice responses and more.

Sonya Bigelow-Smith, the CRMSDC’s director of business development, told Technical.ly that the council decided to create the course after receiving a grant from the US Department of Commerce. The grant was intended to fund programming to support companies from underrepresented founders impacted by the pandemic over the past few years.

The best way the council saw to achieve that, she said, was to provide that business guidance specifically designed to tackle the unique challenge of being a founder of color amid pandemic recovery.

“For minority-owned firms, the dynamics are so different these days,” Bigelow-Smith said. “They’re not only dealing with workforce issues, but they’re also dealing with supply chain and inflation and all the other things that other companies are dealing with.”

Bigelow-Smith said that the academy has 23 startup founders for this session so far. They represent industries as varied as cybersecurity and accounting and come from DC, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Texas, Florida and Michigan. The spring cohort has already begun, but the Council is looking to host another in partnership with UMD this fall, with a specific focus on rural business owners.

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At the end of six weeks, the council hopes that founders will walk away with tools and action plans to guide them through the remainder of the year and years to come. As a whole, Bigelow-Smith said, the partners hope to provide the nuts and bolts to help founders create a sustainable business.

“A lot of times, what we find is many of them are running great businesses, but they’re doing it alone and they’re challenged with trying to address the marketing needs and the financial needs and all the things that they need within their business,” Bigelow-Smith said. “So this [program] is incredibly important because we’re being very strategic and intentional about the program we provide for them.”

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