Black-owned businesses play a critical role in the success and competitiveness of the United States economy. The U.S. Joint Economic Committee estimates that more than 3 million Black-owned businesses contribute over $200 billion annually to the U.S. economy and provide jobs for about 1.2 million Americans.
As more young Black Americans pursue entrepreneurship, the role their businesses play in shaping the American economic landscape will continue to evolve and grow. This number continues to increase, with more young people joining the ranks of entrepreneurship. During a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Equality of Opportunity event, a panel of business leaders shared their insights on Black entrepreneurship in America, including its history, the challenges, and opportunities Black entrepreneurs are facing now, and their potential pathways to success in the future.
How the Civil Rights Movement impacted the Black business community
According to Robert “Bob” Brown, Chairman and CEO at B&C Associates Inc., “nobody was ready for this revolution to take place” back in the 1960s, when he served as a liaison between the business community and Civil Rights leaders. Therefore, the Civil Rights Committee was a bit at odds with the business world.
“The business community was totally unprepared because Black people had never reacted this way before, so they needed some guidance as [to] what to do, where to go, and how to do it,” said Brown.
As a Black business and communications professional, Brown said he was able to bridge the gap between the two parties and help them forge a more cooperative path forward.
[Read more: 7 Ways to Promote Your Minority-Owned Business]
Leveling the playing field for equality of opportunity for Black entrepreneurs
Although there has been a surge of support for Black and minority entrepreneurship, Nicholas Perkins, Chairman, President, and CEO of Perkins Management Services Company and Fuddruckers, noted that there is still a long way to go in creating a more equitable playing field for these business owners, especially in terms of access to capital, contracts, and opportunities overall. For instance, the number of Black-owned businesses has increased in recent years — and yet, just 1% of all U.S. venture capital went to Black startup founders in 2022.
Because entrepreneurship can be a “gateway to economic independence” for historically disadvantaged and underrepresented people of color, Perkins believes financial institutions should be held responsible for lending practices that support minority-owned businesses.
“I would love to see our government get involved and leverage some of its agencies to step up and provide lending opportunities to minority-owned businesses,” said Perkins.
Perkins emphasized that supporting small, women- and minority-owned businesses can ultimately strengthen the national and global economy and boost America’s gross domestic product.
[Read more: 14 Resources for Black-Owned Businesses]
Alternative resources for young, aspiring Black entrepreneurs
When access to capital and mentorship is limited, aspiring Black entrepreneurs can leverage other resources to grow. Sean Roberts, Founder of CSR Consulting, recommends YouTube as a resource for young entrepreneurs.
“If I’m curious about a business or want to learn something new, I always start with YouTube,” he said.
There are also numerous government and private-sector grants available to entrepreneurs of color, as well as a wealth of knowledge and guidance available from organizations like the U.S. Small Business Administration. Lisette Lavergne, CEO and Founder of Lisette Lavergne Law, PC, recommends researching and leveraging these additional resources. She also reminds aspiring leaders to draw on their holistic educational, career, and life experiences to help them get off the ground.
“Learning from your past experiences can help you build that solid foundation that you need,” she explained. “Direct and indirect [work] … that I did [in my career] was valuable because, ultimately, it’s about building your skillset and adding value to the services that you provide.”
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