Both Black and Latinx Americans have faced higher unemployment rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their businesses have been hit harder, too. In Philadelphia, active Black biz ownership fell by 68% from March to July, compared to 44% for white biz owners, per WHYY.
Herman Nyamunga, the director of the Community College of Philadelphia’s (CCP) Power Up Your Business accelerator, believes entrepreneurship can be used as tool for Black and brown communities to fight poverty — but supports are necessary, especially amid unprecedented challenges.
Power Up Your Business is CCP’s neighborhood-based approach to economic development that offers free training to small businesses. It was one of four local programs to share $180,000 in recent grant funding from AT&T designed to support Black and brown entrepreneurs. CCP received $80,000 to fund two cohorts for its new accelerator, PHL Community Startup Accelerator Program, which will aim to help 30 entrepreneurs at the launch or growth stages.
Nyamunga said AT&T’s assistant VP of external affairs in the Mid-Atlantic region, Joseph Divis, helped CCP secure the grant partly because he was impressed by Power Up Your Business’ overall representation of participants from low-income communities. And over 85% of Power Up participants have been minorities and women, he said.
In partnership with Lancaster Avenue 21st Century Business Association and CDFI Finanta, the new program specifically aims to address the larger question of what factors contribute to many Black and other minority businesses struggling over their lifetimes. According to Nyamunga, a lack of market research and planning, credit, and access to capital doom many such businesses from the start. As a result, they barely make profits, and over time leave nothing for owners to pass on to their descendants, blocking the accrual of generational wealth in the process. Having access to business training and professional services is also a key factor in Black businesses reaching their potential.
“You have to learn about what you’re doing,” said Nyamunga, who previously served as the director of the Global Enterprise Hub for the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, where he obtained grants to fund a micro incubation program for 52nd Street and an immigrant innovation hub. “You may be the best chef in the world, but to compete in business you have to learn how to be a businessperson. A lot of times we don’t have access to training or professional services.”
To help change how Black and minority business owners strategize and develop their concepts, the new accelerator focuses on building sustainable businesses to stabilize communities from within. Participants are given access to tools like credit assessment services, market research and social capital in the form of mentorship over the 12 weeks of the accelerator, plus two weeks of pre-class assessment.
They will also be offered access to capital via lending partners — something that is often out of reach for Black and brown entrepreneurs because of systemic racism. (Read Technical.ly Delaware’s extensive reporting on these and other systemic issues through its Seeking Equity in Wilmington series, which profiles Black and Latinx business owners.)
“For us, we are focused on targeting growth businesses that can scale up,” Nyamunga said. “That is the only way we will change the issue of poverty in our community.”
The accelerator will be run online due to COVID-19 and Nyamunga said that CCP has long-term goals to eliminate barriers of access for entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. In the post-pandemic future, CCP will offer business classes in every Philadelphia ZIP code so participants have easier access.
“The approach for this is that, we operate at the community level,” he said. “Even with Power Up and community classes, we only do one in Center City — the rest are done at the community level. With this startup accelerator we will do the same model even more granular on the ground.”
The other three AT&T grantees, with provided descriptions, are:
- Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — $30,000 to support the Recalibrate, Retool, Restart (R+) Initiative, which was created to help Latinx-owned businesses recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
- MenzFit — $40,000 to support the Face It, We’re All in this Together campaign to better deliver services virtually
- West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative — $30,000 to support the Technology Repair POP-Up Initiative, which helps repairs phones, computers and other devices that people are increasingly relying on for learning, job search and work
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-