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Temperature check: How are Black entrepreneurs feeling?

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When Bernice Taylor started a fireplace accessories business in 1998, she ran into a lot of the same problems other new business owners do. 

For one, it was much more difficult in those days to find a manufacturing site that would do production, distribution, packaging and everything else for her business, Ashes to Go. Taylor was also trying to help take care of a family and work at the post office (a job she still has).

Through it all, though, Taylor said she’s always felt America’s economic system is “pretty fair” for Black entrepreneurs, with one caveat. 

“It’s just we don’t have the avenue,” she said. “We don’t know who to go to.” 

Therein lies what seems to be one of the most significant issues for Black entrepreneurs. It’s not a lack of ideas or passion; it’s that information is hard to come by — whether that’s information about how to start a business or what resources there are for business owners. 

It’s one of the reasons Taylor appears to be somewhat of an outlier in her assessment of the country’s economic system.

In a survey of entrepreneurs commissioned by SecondMuse, an innovation and collaboration agency, respondents were about twice as likely to describe America’s economy as “unfair” rather than “fair.” 

Non-white entrepreneurs were twice as likely as whites to describe the economy as “racist,” and more than half of non-white respondents said the economic system makes it more difficult to be an entrepreneur. 

Ten percent of survey respondents were Black, which is a little less than representative. 

Todd Khozein, founder and co-CEO of SecondMuse, said he wasn’t surprised to see the results, including that a third of entrepreneurs described America’s economy as “corrupt.” 

“It’s kind of the world that we assume is out there,” he said. 

Entrepreneurs are supposed to be an optimistic bunch. They take big risks, after all, and who would do that if with a pessimistic outlook? Khozein suspects the COVID-19 pandemic and rising awareness of racial inequity have made entrepreneurs more skeptical in general, but Black entrepreneurs in particular have never enjoyed the full rosiness of this American system. 

“The economic system was not really created for Black entrepreneurs,” said Emil Ekiyor, founder and CEO of InnoPower, a community development organization. 

Take a hypothetical 12-year-old Black boy from the east side of Indianapolis, Ekiyor said. Unless he happens to have a successful business owner in the family, who is he supposed to look up to if he has dreams of starting his own business someday? 

Sandy Crain, owner of Neonapi, an online boutique store, said the opportunities are there for Black entrepreneurs. It just takes a little know-how. 

“Nobody’s gonna jump in your face and say, ‘Here’s all these opportunities,’” she said. 

If there’s hope in Indianapolis, it might be around the push to find local support for business owners through recent initiatives such as Indy Accompliceship, which involves a network of support for Black-owned businesses. 

Nearly 90% of respondents in the SecondMuse survey said they believe local coordination is essential to entrepreneurial success. 

“Local coordination allows you to do you,” Khozein said. “Economies can’t just be waiting for some external business to come save them.” 

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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