In a recent event titled “The Black-Owned Economy: A Virtual Town Hall,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson made a case for optimism after the events of the last year. As he put it, “COVID is an opportunity built on the backdrop of a disaster.”
In conversation with Earth's Nectar Co-Founder Tamika Fletcher, Bivium Capital CEO Lawrence Bancroft, and Hello Alice Vice President of Product Kelsey Ruger, Johnson discussed the status of the more than 2.6 million Black-owned businesses in the United States.
The good news is that while the pandemic has forced many businesses to adapt, sometimes these changes have helped them grow their businesses. Owners won’t lose these gains after the pandemic, either.
“We figured out what we can live without. We figured out how to take technology and replace some of the positions that we had that were costing us a lot more,” explained Fletcher, co-owner of a Houston-based salon and beauty brand.
The last year highlighted the value of our local communities. Fletcher said she’s relied on her local SBA office and SCORE mentors to guide her decisions. She’s also turned to accelerators like The Workshop at Macy’s and Target’s Rising Stars. “I learned really how to run a business and not just have an expensive hobby,” she said of these programs.
At the same time, panelists acknowledged how hard it is to keep up with resources available to small business owners, particularly when it comes to business grants.
“I’m shocked at how much grant money is available out there that goes unclaimed, just because people don't know about it,” Ruger said. “[Hello Alice] is actually working on a grants hub that gets all of those things together in one compiled location so that even outside of our own grants, people can see what else is available for them to help their business.”
Beyond the soon-to-be-launched Hello Alice funding center, panelists said the Black community has much to look forward to: more financial support for HBCUs, a Civilian Climate Corps to help young people gain marketable skills, and tangible progress in the diversity of business leaders.
Johnson’s closing message emphasized the digital transformation of the last year. Yes, we should be excited to return to in-person business soon, but we should also take advantage of our ability to use digital tools like Zoom to reach customers in every corner of the world.
“Whether you are in financial services or some type of lifestyle product, we are in the moment where your customer base is not based on your geography — your customer base is global, and you can touch them at any given point,” Johnson said.
You can watch the full Hello Alice x NAACP town hall both linked above and on YouTube.