Philly workshop offers Black entrepreneurs tips on expanding their businesses

LaKeysha Jean wants to build the next Hallmark.

In 2021, she launched a greeting card company following George Floyd’s murder and the racial reckoning nationwide. Called Speak to The King, the company is dedicated to affirming and celebrating men of color.

“Birthday cards, anniversary, ‘I love you,’ ‘just because,’” Jean said. “We are targeting emotional well-being for men of color and communities of color.”

Jean joined dozens of other business founders at a day-long summit Saturday designed to support Black entrepreneurs in building a financial strategy for growing their businesses and to address the racial gap in business funding. The Black & Bankable event, hosted by local company Mom Your Business and facilitated by Denver-based Sistahbiz Global Network, featured panels, networking, and technical support from credit specialists, accountants, and bookkeepers.

“This morning really focused on growth and the things to look for as it relates to debt, and how you need to think about money and money trauma as it relates to your business,” said Mom Your Business founder and CEO Tanya Morris.

BIPOC-owned businesses receive fewer and smaller loans than white-owned businesses, and pay higher interest rates. Businesses led by Black women also experience hurdles in securing funding from other sources. Typically, Black women entrepreneurs get less than 1% of venture capital dollars each year.

“There are in fact systemic issues as it relates to raising capital,” Morris said. “Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs [but] the least funded.”

Speak to The King, which Jean describes as still in its “seed form,” currently sells cards on Etsy and through pop-up stores at community events. Jean hopes to have a global footprint one day. But so far, she has had to invest her savings to sustain her dream.

“I’m primarily still bootstrapped. Every dollar that goes into my company, I earn it and put it into the company,” Jean said. “When it comes to financial statements and becoming bankable — it is an uphill battle for me.”

Following nationwide racial justice protests after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, financial institutions committed billions of dollars to advance racial equity — including support for minority-owned small businesses or businesses located in majority Black and brown neighborhoods. A Washington Post analysis found that most of the corporate commitments after Floyd’s murder were investments or loans that companies could profit from. Three years later, some — like Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley — are demanding transparency about the results of big banks’ commitments.

Morris, of Mom Your Business, said after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, momentum has flipped in the opposite direction. A federal appeals court in Atlanta recently blocked a grant fund for small, women of color-led businesses.

“This work that we do in supporting Black and brown founders is under attack,” Morris said.

Mom Your Business awards funding to businesses through pitch competitions. The company also runs an eight-week business accelerator program by and for Black women and an online technical assistance program.

“There are things that we can do to improve our chances [of securing funding], like ensuring that we have our taxes up to date, ensuring that we have our financials, our balance sheets, our cash flow statements, our property and loss statements,” Morris said. “Making sure that your stuff is tight.”

Speakers on a panel about accessing capital provided tips on communicating growth strategies to potential lenders, navigating credit score checks, and deciding when to pursue a loan from a bank versus friends and family. They advised business founders to build relationships with their bank officials before they approach them for loans.

“Come and talk to me,” said Ryan Thompson, assistant vice president and branch leader at Truist Bank.

Attendee Charisma Harper is in the process of expanding her realty team and founding a salon in Northwest Philly. She recently went through the process of securing funding for her ventures, and agrees that building a relationship with your bank is key.

“I know the employees on a first name basis, they know me on a first name basis, and just having that relationship made the process so much easier,” she said.

Saturday’s event also covered the different types of business funding, with stories from business owners who have successfully navigated venture capital funding.

Jean, who founded Speak to The King, hopes to access grants and non-dilutive funding, rather than rely on bank loans.

She said Saturday’s summit underscored for her the importance of hiring employees with expertise to delegate some tasks to — in her case, a team of card writers.

“I want this to be generational wealth for my family,” Jean said. “If we’re gonna scale across the world, I can’t write every card.”

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