Workin' it Out Podcast

Empowering Black and Brown Businesses in the Pandemic

February 04, 2022 Vanessa J. Weaver, PhD Season 3 Episode 1
Workin' it Out Podcast
Empowering Black and Brown Businesses in the Pandemic
Show Notes Transcript

Jessica Bergeron, Senior Vice President of Operation Hope, joins Dr. Vanessa Weaver to speak about the status of Black and Brown-owned businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also talks about how Operation Hope’s One Million Black Businesses Initiative has been helping Black and Brown businesses bounce back and thrive during the pandemic.

In this Episode

·      The challenges facing Black and Brown-owned businesses, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of fortified infrastructure to strengthen and protect them

·      How bank loans, mentorship, and generational wealth are involved in creating a solid infrastructure, and how Black and Brown businesses have been bereft of them, therefore placing them at a huge disadvantage

·      The origins of Operation Hope and how the organization has helped Black and Brown businesses thrive via education on financial literacy, money management, coaching services, and initiatives such as One Million Black Businesses

·      How the partners of Operation Hope, such as PNC Bank, Shopify, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been instrumental in rebuilding Black and Brown businesses hit hard by the pandemic

·      Empowering Black and Brown businesses and startups to advance in the corporate world


·      Jessica Bergeron

·      Operation Hope

·      Dr. Vanessa Weaver

·      Alignment Strategies

·      One Million Black Businesses

Follow Us on Social Media

Workin’ It Out

·      LinkedIn

·      Facebook 

·      Instagram

·      Twitter

Alignment Strategies

·      LinkedIn

·      Facebook

·      Twitter

Diversity and Inclusion Television

·      LinkedIn

·      Facebook 


- [Narrator] Working it out, a podcast show about diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workplaces, our communities, and our lives, a show where we put diversity and inclusion to work. ♪ Got problems on the job ♪ ♪ We're workin it out ♪ ♪ Workplace got you stressin' ♪ ♪ We're workin' it out ♪ ♪ Yeah we're workin' it out ♪ ♪ Workin' it out workin' it out ♪ ♪ We've got to be ♪

- Welcome, I'm Dr. Vanessa Weaver, your host of Workin' It Out. We're talking about today the challenges and opportunities facing Black-owned businesses. There are more than two million Black-owned businesses in the United States and they generate 150 billion. Yes, 150 billion in gross revenues. And even though that sounds like a really big number, and it is a good number, that accounts for less than 1% of the revenue that's generated by other businesses in the country. And so as we really think about the impact of COVID, particularly on Black and Brown businesses, we know that the data has consistently reported that over 40% of Black businesses were really wiped out as a result of COVID. And for those that are left standing, many of them are in need of really significant resources to really continue to repair the loss that they had in their businesses, and then to grow them in ways that are really meaningful. And so today I'm joined by Dr. Jessica Bergeron, who is the Senior Vice President of this phenomenal group called Operation Hope and Dr. Bergeron's role and passion and commitment is to really help grow Black and Brown businesses and provide access to resources for those financial resources so that their businesses can thrive.

- Thank you so much, Vanessa, for having me. And I appreciate being here and talking about this really important issue.

- It is, and why do you say it's important?

- Well, Black-owned businesses are such an amazing and important part of the economy, but we haven't had the opportunity to really build infrastructure for Black businesses, which is why they were so devastated by COVID, and many of those infrastructures were taken down due to racism like the Tulsa massacre, but these infrastructures that allow businesses to thrive, we just haven't been able to have that in the Black community. So right now there are a lot of challenges that are facing Black-owned businesses and business owners.

- Well, let me ask, just for a point of clarification for myself and maybe for some of our viewers and some of our listeners, what do you mean that they about, they didn't have the infrastructure?

- So infrastructure for business owners is a number of things that allow businesses to thrive and be resilient. So infrastructure can be anything from information, so where to go for things like the PPP loan, the paycheck protection program loan that was given out by the federal government, knowing where to go and where to get information from that for many White-owned businesses, they knew and already had relationships with banks, and a lot of the banks were the ones who distributed these loans. Black-owned businesses don't necessarily have the same kind of banking relationship, so they didn't have access to these types of loans. Other infrastructure are things like generational wealth, so being able to have 50,000 or more startup costs to start a business, and then the third one I want to mention is mentorship. Being able to have people in your environment that can walk you through the process and without these pieces, without infrastructure pieces, Black-owned businesses are really starting behind the start line and having to catch up, and then trying to meet the demand, and that's the reason why they were so negatively affected by COVID, but also the reason why in general, their revenue is significantly lower than other business owners.

- Hmm. Even compared to other minority business owners like Latino and Asians?

- Exactly. Black-owned businesses are significantly lower in revenue, they're also typically sole proprietors. So 96% of Black-owned businesses are sole proprietors, and they bring in less than $100,000 in revenue a year. So why is that significant that they're sole proprietors? So a Black business owner is more likely to hire Black employees, so when we own businesses, when Black owners own businesses, that means that we're not only creating generational wealth for our families, we're also creating jobs in our communities. So not having employees really significantly impacts communities. If 96% of Black-owned businesses are sole proprietors, they don't have the ability to spread the wealth with employees and other folks in the community, as well, they're not as eligible, and not as sustainable to create scale and grow. And so, you know, we've spent a lot of time, Dr. Weaver talking about supplier diversity, and the commitment that corporations have made to supplier diversity, but we, Black-owned businesses don't have enough to meet, there's not enough businesses that are large enough to meet that demand.

- Well, you're Senior Vice President of Operation Hope. And that's a big role. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do, and how does that support the vision and mission of Operation Hope?

- We were started founded and our CEO, current CEO, is Chairman, John Hope Bryant, and he started Operation Hope 29 years ago after the LA riots and as a solution, a social justice solution from an economic lens, thinking about financial empowerment and financial education for folks around four areas, home ownership, small business, as we've talked about business development, credit, money management, and disaster recovery. So we provide financial literacy education and empowerment services to customers, clients at no charge. So we're a nonprofit that provides these services at no charge --

- Free.

- to bring up credit scores, free.

- Free.

- It's surprising it's free.

- That's right free to bring up credit scores, reduce debt, increase savings, increase disaster preparedness, we've partnered with FEMA and other government organizations to increase disaster preparedness. One in three people in the United States live in a county, that is affected by natural disasters. So disaster preparedness financially is very important. And the focus that I'm going to talk about today with Operation Hope is business development. So we've been doing business development through small business coaching and volunteers and supporting clients for over 20 years. But last year, when COVID hit, as you mentioned, 40% of our businesses were negatively affected by COVID. So John, our chairman, chairman Bryant said, you know, we need to do something about this. So last year he started the One Million Black Businesses Initiative. And that initiative is one million is about the amount of businesses that were negatively affected by COVID. And since Black businesses don't have the infrastructure that other communities have, he made this initiative a ten-year initiative, and said, we're going to take the time to get this right. And so we started immediately looking for partners, because we know this is not something we can do by ourselves, this is something that's going to take a community, it's going to take a village for us to build, and we are just one piece of a much broader puzzle around how we can come together and rebuild, or really build this infrastructure for Black-owned businesses. So that's the work that we're doing here at Operation Hope for one million Black businesses, we provide direct services, as I mentioned in coaching and business development, but for this initiative, we're also convening. We're also working to convene and connect partners who are doing this work already and, you know, really pull together this community, so that we can make a sustainable difference.

- And I can vouch for what you're saying, because you and I, I had the opportunity to meet you as part of the Take On Race Initiative, which is really being sponsored by the Procter and Gamble company, but has partners like Operation Hope and other organizations like, who do we have? I mean, we have PNC Bank, we have BMO Bank, we have the US Chamber of Commerce. But in this initiative we were looking at how do we define declare and demonstrate the role that corporate America must play in eradicating various forms of racial bias, and obviously wealth and wealth creation is one of those. So tell us how can people access one and be one of those one million Black businesses in your portfolio.

- That's right. We are, it's as simple as signing up for a client, a potential client. They can enroll follow the prompts and sign up, and the only criteria to participate is to identify as Black or Brown, and be able to sign up for the program, and we have lots of additional partner services that clients can take advantage of in addition to our coaching services so --

- For example?

- For example, we have partnered with Shopify, which is an e-commerce platform, and this was something, yes, Shopify was one of our earliest partners that really said, you know, we would like to be a part of this One Million Black Businesses Initiative. Not because we are, you know, because we want to give away or a charitable act, although it's definitely altruistic, but because they see Black business owners as potential shopkeepers and shop owners for this online initiative, and they want to make sure that they have all the resources that they need. So Shopify has a Black entrepreneurship space called Build Black, and they're committed to making sure that they're part of this economy. We have to make sure that Black business owners and Brown businesses owners can become part of this economy. So e-commerce is one area that we really are dedicated to supporting and providing additional coaching services with. The other area is access to capital. So access to capital, as we mentioned previously, is an area that has been incredibly challenging for Black business owners due to discriminatory practices in lending, lack of access to capital, you know, not having friends and family that they can go to, to ask for the startup capital for their business, and part of this is also thinking about what happens after I get a loan, how do I set up my accounting? We have a lot of folks who are still doing accounting in books and spreadsheets online, and they need to have automated accounting set up. So we've partnered also with Intuit and QuickBooks, and they provided a QuickBooks subscription for one year for all of our participants. So this automated --

- That's awesome. Excuse me, that's also free.

- Yes, also all is free at no cost to the participant.

- Okay.

- This automated accounting is incredibly important for when it comes time to pay back that loan, but also to get the loan. Most banks require about two years worth of automated accounting, you know, spreadsheets in order to even apply for a business loan. So these are all really important solutions, as I mentioned, that we're not just looking at problems, and pointing at them and shaking our head. We're saying, something's got to be done right now. And now is the time, we have to rebuild these businesses, so the Black community can become part of the economy.

- What's neat about what you share is that people can have access to all of these free resources and coaching, and just the knowledge that you have around how do you really take advantage of a lot of these programs and initiatives by just going to your website. So we talked about the fact that 41% of the businesses were negatively impacted, Black businesses were negatively impacted by COVID. Is there any kind of emergency support or emergency program that you or your partners provide those businesses that maybe they can recover, if they had a little financial support?

- We are not a distributor of funding for, in terms of FEMA and PPP and all of that, but we are a resource for funding support, so being able to know where the funding comes from when the federal government distributes those loans, we are a second responder, so, you know, first responders after disaster are like American Red Cross. They come out, they help support, and then a lot of times after a disaster, folks might get a recovery disaster recovery check in order, you know, 'cause they've lost their home or whatnot. So Operation Hope has served for many years as a second responder, where we come in a few months later, and help people identify what are the areas that they need to spend their money, how do they set up a bank account.

- What are the most common forms of Black business? What are the types?

- Right. That's a good question because it does have an effect on revenue. So this is another area where we really want to build and grow is moving this needle from, as I mentioned, 96% are sole proprietors, they're typically owned by Black women, and they are also mostly service industries. So services like, you know, lawn care, or cleaning, or those types of services. And we really, as a community, in order to grow, we need to get into the e-commerce space, we need to have products, and we also need to be able to get into things like manufacturing, clean energy, or clean or healthy food areas, what they call future of work, technology, health care, all of these areas are really important, when we think about longterm building generational wealth into our communities.

- Do you have any example of a Black business that benefited?

- We had a young woman who owned a cleaning service business, and it was relatively small, 'cause she was in residential cleaning, but she wanted get into commercial business, and commercial cleaning, the big offices, those kinds of contracts, are hard to get, they're bidding, you have to bid on those contracts. So she worked with an Operation Hope business coach, and you know, she built up her credit, she got a small business loan all through the help of her coach and got to the point where the bidding came out, she was well-prepared for it. And she thought to herself, oh my gosh, I'm not ready for this, I can't do this. And her coach said, "No, you can. "We've been preparing for this whole year. "You've got this." She bid on the contract and won. And now she's got multiple employees, this big contract for a big commercial contract, and I think that that's important to mention, because sometimes it's up here that's preventing us from moving forward, it's not just all of those things that I named. It's also, you know, the mindset, and that's a big advantage of having a coach, somebody who believes in you and tells you, "Yep, you got this."

- And so you're saying so many ways we can limit our own selves from being successful?

- Yes.

- What do you think that's, where is that coming from?

- Well, I mean, it's hard to say Dr. Weaver, but I think that all of the very real challenges that Black businesses face, access to capital, discriminatory practices in lending, not having a startup, not having mentors, sometimes that can just wear a person down when they keep trying and trying and trying. And, you know, but having somebody there who can believe in them and say to them, "You got this." And I can speak for myself too and say, you know, I was a hard worker in school, I got several degrees, I went and went to work. I never dreamed of being a business owner until much later in life, because I thought that was just something that rich people did. I didn't think that I could have, even though I could get advanced degrees and do well in school and get good jobs, I never sort of envisioned myself as being a business owner, and that's where representation matters.

- Well, Dr. Bergeron, I have the pleasure of working and being a partner with you on looking at how do we drive more wealth creation as part of the Take On Race initiative. So share with our audience. What does that mean, and what is it that we're trying to do in terms of changing this dynamic?

- Yeah, that's right. So the issue that we identified as a committee and a coalition, I'm mentioning that because I think it's important for people to understand that from the very beginning, we started working together with other folks who are in this industry, who are volunteering their time to try to address some of these issues around access to wealth and wealth creation. And so we decided as a group that we wanted to target supplier diversity, and supplier diversity is a relatively complex problem, because it's easy on the surface where, you know, corporations make a commitment to purchase from Black and Brown businesses and easy peasy, right? Corporations collectively have made billions of dollars in commitments to buy from Black and Brown businesses. However, as we talked earlier about the statistics, 96% being sole proprietors, many Black and Brown businesses aren't large enough to meet the demands of these contracts. So businesses have to be large enough and automated enough to be able to provide supplies at the level that these corporations need. And so it's hard to find, and it's ... And then there's also businesses who are doing really well and really prepped to meet the demand for this, but they don't have a clear understanding of what the bidding process is like for procurement services. So we identified several areas that are contributing to this issue. So access to capital to grow businesses, growth and automation, education around bidding processes and procurement services, and then matching that to corporations, matching businesses to corporations that have made a commitment. And as of recently, we sort of said, okay, at the beginning of all of this is going to be access to capital, making sure businesses have access to capital, and making sure they're getting the education they need in order to grow their businesses or be able to bid on those contracts.

- And so, as a result of that, we come up with a solution that could be a real game changer. And I don't know if we're ready to announce that now, but, because we have a little more work to do, but it is really about making the connections easier, one-stop connections, I've been in business for many decades now, and it is really so encouraging, and so stimulating to see all of these different companies, many of who are competitors in that space come together to say, what is the role that we as corporate America must play to help eradicate these racial disparities and for the groups that you and I are involved in as wealth disparities? You know, how can we play, how can corporate America step in, and make a difference, if somebody is looking at this show right now, and they're saying, "I want to be a business owner, "I want to look at how I can really grow my business." What would be the one thing you would tell them to do?

- Believe in yourself and believe it can happen. Be open to the idea that you can be the next Bill Gates, be open to the idea that you can create the next app, or the next product that is just going to change the way that people live their life. And our job is to make sure you have the resources to grow that idea.

- And then a second step is to go to your website. One million Black Businesses, Operation Hope's website and sign up. It is free and it's no excuse, right? You take away all the excuses from advancing.

- Right.

- Dr. Bergeron, Jessica, I want to thank you so much for just the information, and the insight that you have.

- Thank you so much for having me. This is great, and I always enjoy spending time with you, Dr. Weaver --

- Well, I feel the same, and I'm always, I always leave with additional information and feeling like I can even do more for my own mindset with our business Alignment Strategies. So thank you again. And on behalf of our crew and our team, I want to thank our listeners and our viewers for tuning in, and we wish you a safe, productive, and what we call be happy week.

- [Narrator] Workin' it out is brought to you by Alignment Strategies, a management consultancy with more than three decades of experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and organizational development. To learn more, visit ♪ Got problems on the job ♪ ♪ We're workin' it out ♪ ♪ Workplace got you stressin' ♪ ♪ We're workin' it out ♪ ♪ Yeah we're workin' it out ♪ ♪ Workin' it out workin' it out ♪ ♪ We've got to be ♪