For many Americans, small businesses are a ladder to a better, more prosperous lifestyle. As engines for local job growth and family economic security, they’re an important piece of the American dream that, for many, is still within reach. But as many entrepreneurs in communities of color know from experience, starting and running a small business demands more—much more—than a good business plan and countless hours of hard work. From securing a loan to winning contracts to tapping into business networks, the road to success for entrepreneurs of color includes obstacles rarely encountered by most other business owners.
In Pittsburgh, for example, Urban Innovation21 (UI21) is using a mix of strategies to help minority-owned businesses grow, create jobs, and generate wealth for their owners. UI21 CEO William Generett Jr. saw an opportunity to connect some of Pittsburgh’s historically African-American and lower-income neighborhoods to the city’s growing innovation economy. UI21 utilized existing economic development incentives to help grow and locate businesses in the Hill District and Homewood neighborhoods. It held business pitch competitions, created internship programs, and provided the one-on-one business support services entrepreneurs need to help grow their businesses.
Surdna’s grantees are also exploring alternative business models, including worker-owned cooperatives, to enable employees to gain a greater voice in their workplace and in key business decisions, as well as create a route toward boosting their financial assets as their ownership stakes increase. Also, more and more companies are voluntarily adopting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance by forming as Public Benefit Corporations. Surdna grantee B Lab is leading the way by advocating for state policies that allow this type of businesses formation, and it is using its rigorous standards to promote the importance of job quality and environmental stewardship in the business community.
As small businesses grow to larger ones, organizations like the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) are working to ensure that they create quality jobs—jobs that pay above industry standards, offer benefits, and provide opportunities for professional growth. MEDA’s capital and business support services helped Twin Cities-based Olu’s Home, a minority-owned provider of services to the developmentally disabled, expand and create an additional 25 quality jobs.
When businesses create quality jobs, they are not only strengthening the foundations of the local economy, they are offering residents greater dignity, economic mobility, and an ability to provide a better future for their families.