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The challenges are many, but still we rise

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It’s tough to start and maintain a business. Starting a business is not for the faint at heart. If you are Black in the United States, owning a business can be even tougher. There’s a well-known adage that suggests hard work and determination are the primary ingredients for success. After all, look at some of our immigrant counterparts who arrived in the U.S. with very little, but within a short amount of time they managed to establish a thriving new business. However, we understand that Black people, unlike immigrants, are a marginalized minority with a long, long history of racist policies and systems that work against our success. In fact, to show just how challenging business success is specifically for Black people, here are some recent statistics from a SCORE study in August 2020 with 3,500 responses. 

How would you describe your business now?

Profitable and Growing

Black-owned businesses: 8.8%

White-owned businesses: 14.7 %

Not Profitable

Black-owned businesses: 56.3%

White-owned businesses: 44.1%

How much impact has COVID-19 infection of your staff had on your business since March 15, 2020? (% reporting large impact)

Black-owned businesses: 25.9%

White-owned businesses: 11.4%

Did you receive government funding post COVID-19?

PPP (Paycheck Protection Program)

47.8% of White-owned businesses applied, and 63.7% received the full amount.

53.4% of Black-owned businesses applied, and 20.3% received the full amount.

SBA loans

19.5% of White-owned businesses applied, and 33% received the full amount.

41.3% of Black-owned businesses applied, and 8.4% received the full amount

From these survey responses, SCORE concluded, Black-owned businesses were already struggling, but they “were more significantly disrupted by COVID-19” compared to white-owned businesses. In addition, Black-owned businesses were “more likely to seek — but less likely to receive — government funding.”

This SCORE report did not provide a deeper analysis of the disparities but the disparities are stark. I want to highlight the survey results that revealed that Black-owned businesses applied for government funding that was made available to impacted businesses, but were less likely to receive funding compared to white-owned businesses. A simple reaction to this stark contrast is to question the robustness of Black-owned businesses and their applications. A more informed reaction is to question systems, processes and potential biases embedded in both. What are Black-owned businesses to do?

I recommend three things: 1) Black-owned businesses need advocates, accomplices and allies who can demand equity in resources and funding. Oftentimes Black business owners don’t have the time, resources or influential networks to advocate on their behalf. 2) Black businesses should leverage entities like Innopower, the Indy Black Chamber, the Indy Chamber, SBA, Indiana Black Expo, Butler University’s Central Indiana Small Business Development Center, the Indianapolis Urban League and others to get the support they need for certification, access to capital, infrastructure support and marketing and business development. 3) Black-owned businesses should help each other achieve robust business processes to place themselves in the best position to leverage the aforementioned resources. Too often, we are not ready for the opportunities when they come. I believe, however, this is changing. Black leaders in Indianapolis, along with corporate allies, are starting to build an ecosystem of support, which is long overdue. 

The SCORE survey results confirmed what we already knew — the challenges for Black-owned businesses are many, but the history of resilience is strong. An ecosystem is building and Black-owned businesses will be ready. 

Joy E. Mason is president of Optimist Business Solutions LCC, a training and consulting company specializing in assisting organizations move from strategy to action and from problems to solutions. Contact her at jmason@optimistindy.com. 

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