Minority Businesses Guided to Financial Freedom

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When Stephanie Gilchrist thinks about Juneteenth, she is reminded that those last slaves in Galveston, Texas, did not know they were free until more than 21/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

As the regional director of the Minority Business Assistance Center, Gilchrist says the way to financial freedom for minorities today can come through entrepreneurship.

“In celebration of Juneteenth, what better way than to celebrate our folks and our small businesses in our community – and our black community in particular – through talking about funding and finances and creating that generational wealth through our community and our families,” Gilchrist said June 16 at the Financial Freedom Through Entrepreneurship event at Hannah Ferguson’s D.O.P.E. Cider House and Winery, a minority-owned business.

Gilchrist touted Ferguson and her cider house as one of the many success stories in Youngstown.

“The beautiful thing about this event is bringing the bankers and the funders to the people,” Gilchrist said. “People always ask how do you get the Black community in particular? Because we don’t trust easily. So, it’s how do you get them to participate and how do you get them to talk to us as bankers? I always say you have to come to them and you go where the people are who need the change. That’s what today is about – bringing the people to the people who need the change.”

Minority business owners heard from experts on how to advance their businesses, how to tap into financing sources available only to minority businesses and the importance of being a certified business for securing government contracts.

“We don’t speak the language and we don’t go to the interpreters,” said Shaundretta Boykins, manager of business development and entrepreneurship for the Ohio Minority Business Development Division. She suggests that is the importance of organizations such as the Minority Business Assistance Center.

“I’ve seen people talk their way into things they didn’t qualify for because they had the gift of gab. They knew how to speak the language,” Boykins said. “And I’ve seen people talk their way out of things that on paper they qualify for but they cannot articulate it.”

Boykins noted that 15% of what the state buys is mandated to come from minority-owned businesses. So those who are not certified need to get there to take advantage of these opportunities.

Devyn Bellamy, HubSpotter and Black@InBound founder, talked about the importance of networking and growing social capital. He said the value of someone’s service is how valuable it is to the client. Underpricing it could lead to a client devaluing their service.

“We, be it humility, be it imposter syndrome, tend to undervalue ourselves and our services,” Bellamy said. “We don’t stand in our greatness. We don’t stand in our value and we are selling ourselves short. … The way that you land a million-dollar contract, the very first step, is to charge a million dollars.”

Matthew Longmire, business resource manager at Valley Economic Development Partners, told how he provides technical assistance for startups and existing businesses, helping them to strategize and find funding. Loan officers don’t want to overcapitalize a business. They don’t want to undercapitalize it either, which can deter success, he said.

Boykins said she does not believe individuals should borrow money to start a business. They should use their money to get to phase one, then borrow money to expand the business and scale it, borrowing money only to make money.

“Because we built this country on our back, we are addicted to labor. But one day we should retire,” Boykins said. “One day we should build businesses that are sellable and franchisable so that we can go to the beach while the money is still rolling in from the franchise fees.”

Al Jones of Al Jones Marketing talked about the Western Reserve Akron Resiliency Fund that allows small-business loans without payback for the first six months, then only interest for the next six months. The program even helps business owners find the information and paperwork they need to qualify for the loan.

Boykins also talked about loan programs through the state of Ohio that do not look at credit scores and offer interest-free funding opportunities.

“What I used to teach my bankers was, become a master asker,” said Boykins. She referenced a program that she helped to establish because it is important to help female minorities who tend to have lower credit scores, higher interest rates and weaker cash flow.

Bellamy also emphasized the importance of spending money – not on things, but on people, including accountants and lawyers, who can help take a business to the next level.

“If we want to talk about community growth and investing in the community, it’s not by buying stuff – it’s by investing in people,” Bellamy said. “… Spend money on people and spend money on your people. Have that money exchange hands, not just drop into someone’s cash register and never be seen again.”

Bellamy emphasized the importance of spending money on marketing.

“If you’re going to rely on word-of-mouth and popularity, you are never going to make it out of your dining room,” Bellamy said.

The Minority Business Assistance Center helps minority business owners navigate the early stages of their entrepreneurial endeavors. Ayana Beulah, administrative assistant at the MBAC, helps to filter small, minority, veteran friendly and female-owned businesses to business counselors.

If a would-be entrepreneur doesn’t know what his first step is, or things have stagnated and they are unaware of what the next step could be, Beulah sets an appointment with one of the business counselors, including Tanay Hill, who works out of the MBAC Warren office.

Hill said she encourages entrepreneurs to start with a business plan. Next she assists them with strategic planning to help them get to the next level. She also helps with MBE and EDGE assistance, as well as EDGE certification through the state of Ohio, which qualifies them for state contracts. Finally, she helps to procure contracts and funding.

MBAC holds informational sessions for those who are struggling with accounting, marketing or other business skills that are outside the realm of their product or service, according to Hill.

“Our goal is to help see these businesses flourish, thrive and win,” she said.

Pictured at top: Offering advice at the event are Daniel Roberson, PNC; Stephanie Gilchrist, Minority Business Assistance Center; Matthew Longmire, Valley Economic Development Partners; Shaundretta Boykins, Ohio Minority Business Development Division; and Devyn Bellamy, HubSpotter and Black@InBound.