If you're reading this, you likely have more than a passing interest in issues related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA). But have you ever considered how entrepreneurship, specifically within BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities, deeply intersects with these values? Today, I'd like to offer you a seat at the table—well, my virtual table—as we unpack why closing the racial wealth gap by supporting BIPOC entrepreneurs is a critical DEIA concern.
The Landscape: Navigating a Maze with No Map
Imagine you’re in a maze, like those corn mazes that pop up during the fall. In this maze, you encounter different types of barriers—some walls are higher, some pathways are narrower, and some turns lead to dead ends. The challenge is not just in navigating a single obstacle but in making it through an entire course filled with varied and sometimes unexpected hindrances.
Momentum recently completed a study that found that the entrepreneurial journey for Black business owners in Pierce County, Washington is similar to navigating this maze but without a map. Black business owners are faced with a multitude of interconnected barriers—like discriminatory lending practices, limited access to valuable networks, and other disparities—that make finding the way through the maze not just a simple walk in the park but a complex and daunting challenge. To read the report from the study, visit the Tacoma Pierce County Black Collective's website and fill out the fair use agreement to access the free report.
Each barrier isn’t just a wall in the maze; it’s part of a larger, more complicated puzzle that makes it tough for BIPOC entrepreneurs to find their way. By recognizing the complexity of these interconnected obstacles, we can start to develop DEIA strategies that don’t just knock down one wall but aim to provide a clearer, fairer path through the entire maze.
The Nitty-Gritty: Why is this a DEIA Issue?
Some might say, "Entrepreneurship has always had an element of risk", but should one's racial or ethnic background exacerbate that risk? Let's delve into some DEIA principles.
When we champion diversity, we advocate for representation across different identities and backgrounds. However, we can't achieve this representation if BIPOC entrepreneurs are disproportionately squeezed out of the market.
Equity is all about leveling the playing field. Think of it as giving everyone a fair shot at scoring points in football, even if some players have been disadvantaged by poor equipment or limited training. For BIPOC entrepreneurs, this might mean targeted investment or fair bidding opportunities for government contracts.
Inclusion isn't just about being invited to the party; it's about being asked to dance. A truly inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem will not only provide space for BIPOC business owners but will actively engage with them to ensure their sustained success.
Think of the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle. It's a bustling marketplace full of vendors selling everything from fresh fish to hand-crafted jewelry. For someone who’s visited multiple times, navigating through the market can be a joy. However, for a first-timer or someone not familiar with the layout, it can be overwhelming. Now, imagine trying to find your way around Pike Place Market with limited signage, with no one willing to guide you, or worse, with obstacles that prevent you from even entering some stores.
In the entrepreneurial ecosystem, "accessibility" means designing an environment where opportunities are reachable in an equitable manner for everyone, regardless of their background. This is not about making the journey 'easy'—entrepreneurship is never easy for anyone. It's about removing the additional obstacles that BIPOC entrepreneurs disproportionately face. This could involve translating funding applications into multiple languages, creating mentorship programs that account for varied cultural norms, or breaking down systemic barriers that make accessing startup capital more difficult for certain groups.
Real-world Strategies for Change
It's not enough to merely highlight the issues. Let's talk about actionable steps:
Community Investments: Washington State offers its own relevant example with Craft3, a non-profit community development financial institution that provides loans to underserved populations, including BIPOC entrepreneurs. Their focus on underinvested communities allows local businesses to flourish without contributing to gentrification, similar to the mission of Atlanta's Westside Future Fund.
Venture Capital Focus: Backstage Capital, founded by Arlan Hamilton, is a venture capital firm that exclusively invests in startups led by underrepresented founders, including women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals. With over 200 startups in their portfolio, they're actively changing the funding landscape to be more equitable.
Policy Changes: One actionable policy that local jurisdictions can implement is the creation of a Municipal Equity Fund specifically designed to support BIPOC entrepreneurs. The fund would provide low-interest loans, grants, and equity investments to startups and established businesses led by BIPOC entrepreneurs. This could be funded by public-private partnerships with local corporations committed to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) principles.
Wrapping Up: The Ripple Effect
When we invest in BIPOC entrepreneurs, we're not just affecting the individual; we're triggering a ripple effect that reaches the community and, ultimately, society. It's like tossing a stone into a still pond; the ripples extend far beyond the point of impact. A more equitable entrepreneurial landscape contributes to social cohesion, economic stability, and community prosperity.
In my work, I've seen how targeted, systemic action can transform not just individual lives but entire communities. I firmly believe that DEIA principles act as the compass that can guide us toward a more equitable future. Just as a compass helps us navigate through unfamiliar places, these DEIA principles offer us the direction we need to dismantle barriers and level the playing field for BIPOC entrepreneurs. By embracing actionable policies like the Municipal Equity Fund, we're not just wandering aimlessly; we're taking strategic steps that align with our compass—our DEIA values—to create a more equitable, inclusive, and prosperous community for everyone. This isn't just a journey; it's a mission.
Let's not just be part of the conversation. Let's be part of the solution.
For those looking to dive deeper into this topic, I've got a recommendation that hits close to home. Check out our latest report, "Unveiling Inequities: Exploring Barriers Faced by Black Business Owners in Tacoma-Pierce County." We crafted this eye-opening report in collaboration with the Tacoma-Pierce County Black Collective. You can grab your copy by clicking HERE — just fill out a quick form, and you're in.