Black business owners can obtain information online about grants, loans, and how to secure contracts with major corporations and government agencies.
By Jason Lewis
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the inequalities that hamper small Black-owned businesses, which have historically had issues securing financing and contracts to grow their businesses.
Several organizations have stepped up to give Black business owners the information that they need to obtain grants, loans, and contracts with major corporations and government agencies. Most of this information can be obtained for free through virtual workshops that are held on Zoom and social media.
Hello Alice has created a free online community where small business owners are matched with resources that will help their business grow.
“We like to say that we’re an entrepreneur’s best friend,” said Darnell Bowen, Hello Alice controller. “We have over 300,000 users who utilize our free services. Our goal is to help those people who do want to become entrepreneurs. We help them along their journey by providing resources.”
Hello Alice has connected its online users to funding such as grants and business loans, and it partnered with Beyonce’s BeyGOOD Foundation and the NAACP to award Black-owned small businesses $10,000 grants. This grant has helped several local small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic, including Hank’s Mini Market in South Los Angeles.
“Due to COVID-19, Hank’s Mini Market had to temporarily close,” said Kelli Jackson, owner of Hank’s Mini Market. “We are blessed and grateful to be selected for the BeyGOOD/NAACP Black-owned Small Business Impact Fund. This grant helped our re-opening strategy to return better, stronger and safer. And because we believe we are stronger together, we will remain committed to bringing access to art, healthy food options, and safe spaces to our community. We look forward to continuing our work as a pillar in our Hyde Park neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles and be of service to all.”
Hello Alice users can join groups within the online community, where they can share ideas and ask questions. The NAACP hosts one of the community boards.
“I cannot stress enough community,” Bowen said. “In the business for all community, there’s tons of resources. You can post a question to the community. You can ask about payroll services, or how to hire employees. The community that we offer has been tremendous to help entrepreneurs help each other.”
Hello Alice also hosts online workshops and discussions that feature business experts.
Find out more about Hello Alice at www.helloalice.com.
The Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC LA) connects government agencies, foundations, and for-profit companies which have capital, with entrepreneurs and local organizations who are in need of financial resources.
LISC LA has created their 2021 Black Economic Development Agenda to focus resources and programs on closing the racial wealth gap and empowering Black communities across Los Angeles County.
“We’re investing in Black-owned businesses,” said Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, LA LISC executive director. “Providing them not only access to capital, but to contracts. And by investing in physical places and spaces where Black people reside. We have an emphasis on working in South L.A.”
LISC LA sends out weekly emails that have information about virtual business workshops, information about business programs, and about business loans and grant programs. The information about the grants is extremely important because of the limited resources, so small business owners need to stay informed to increase their chances of receiving funds.
“The need is greater than the resources that are available,” Thrash-Ntuk said. “For the L.A. COVID Fund we took in over 150,000 applications. With the resources of $100 million, we were only able to fund about 7,300 entries. While 7,300 is a lot, and each and every one of them who received support are thankful, there were still tens of thousands more who did not have a chance to receive a grant as a part of the program. At every level there is more of a need than there are resources available.
“I keep telling people that the way that you improve your chances is to keep applying. When you apply, make sure that all of your documentation is ready to go.”
LISC LA has the ACEND LA management program, which is a 12-session training program that focuses on entrepreneurial competence, business foundation, and access to capital to enable participant businesses to accelerate growth and acquire corporate and government contracts. The program is in partnership with Loyola Marymount University’s business school. The application deadline for this program is April 14.
For more information about LA LISC, visit their website at www.lisc.org/los-angeles.
Contract Connect Lunch and Learn
The Southern California Virtual Business Center (SCVBC) hosts a bimonthly virtual Contract Connect Lunch and Learn series every first and third Wednesday of the month. The SCVBC invites representatives from large corporations and government departments to share their contract opportunities as well as how to do business with those entities.
“It allows the small businesses to understand what the requirements are in order to break into contracting with particular companies and agencies,” said Kimberly Kelly-Rolfe, SCVBC director.
Past meetings have featured representatives from Honda, the Southern California Gas Company, the California Department of General Services, and Southern California Edison.
It’s difficult for small-business owners to contact large corporations and speak directly to people who can approve contacts, which is why these workshops are important.
“Small-business owners get information that they normally would not get on their own,” Kelly-Rolfe said. “They may not know where to start. During the lunch and learn, they learn exactly what department they need to contact, who the key contact people are, and they receive a phone number and email of the person that they need to contact.”
It’s important for small-business owners to understand what the requirements are to be able to conduct business with large corporations, and these corporations are willing to work with local businesses.
“If the small businesses are not ready, these corporations and agencies will continue to foster relationships with them until they are ready and the right opportunities come up,” Kelly-Rolfe said.
The SCVBC has received positive feedback for this virtual lunch series.
“We just received two testimonials from small businesses that attended our Contract Connection Lunch and Learn,” Kelly-Rolfe said. “One that explained that she was able to book a presentation with one of the companies, and the other small business owner, the corporation put her up for a contract opportunity.”
The BusinessZone’s Community Briefing
Crystal Mitchell and Gilbert Buchanan launched the BusinessZone online radio show to give people good business advice that is vital for sustainability and growth. They cover topics such as business readiness, contract readiness, and bank loan readiness. Their weekly show can be viewed on Facebook and YouTube.
“There are a lot of nuts and bolts, but it’s an easier animal if you have a direct plan,” Mitchell said. “You need to know the first step, then the second step, then the third step, to make sure that you are going to be successful.
“You have to be business and contract ready. What that means is, your business has to be running properly. You have to have a solid foundation; a structural foundation. Hopefully you have enough capital. If not, there are some opportunities that you can find funding.”
In April of 2020, Mitchell, who is the co-director of Recycling Black Dollars, created a weekly community briefing in a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The briefings feature Black business owners in South Los Angeles and Inglewood.
“Our goal is to provide small and minority businesses in our region with the most updated and relevant information on various relief programs and initiatives,” Mitchell said.
The weekly show covers information about the Payroll Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Its guests include local business leaders who have vital information for local business owners. For more information on The BusinessZone, visit www.thebusinesszonewithcrystalandgilbert.com and follow them on social media.