Minority Businesses Look Toward 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 two months after the end of the Civil War.

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 at the Financial Freedom Through Entrepreneurship event held Friday 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.”

The event also included some time to mingle and network, which Gilchrist said is just as important.

Minority business owners heard from some of the area’s 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 those wanting to tap into 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 local organizations like the Minority Business Assistance Center.

“I’ve seen people talk their way into things they didn’t qualify for because they had the gift to 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 pointed out 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 pointed out that the value of someone’s service is how valuable it is to the client, and underpricing themself 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.”

Boykins said if someone is talking you down on your price, they are disrespecting you.

Matthew Longmire is the business resource manager at Valley Economic Development Partners. He provides technical assistance for start-up and existing businesses, helping them to strategize and find funding. Loan officers don’t want to overcapitalize a business, but they don’t want to undercapitalize them, which can deter success, he said.

Boykins said she does not believe someone should borrow money to start a business. They should use their money to get to phase one. Then borrow money to grow 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.”

Individuals should get into business because they have a solution to problems that someone else has, not just because they have a passion, Boykins said.

Al Jones, owner of Al Jones Marketing, was one of the panelists for the discussion.

Al Jones of Al Jones Marketing talked about a program – the Western Reserve Akron Resiliency Fund – that allows small business loans without payback for the first six months, then only interest for the rest of the year. 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 funding opportunities at zero-percent interest.

“What I used to teach my bankers in banking was, become a master asker,” said Boykins. She talked about 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.

Additionally, Bellamy talked about 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 we want to talk about investing in the community, it’s not by buying stuff – it’s by investing in people,” Bellamy said. “What these people do is spend more money on people. … 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 also talked about 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.

D.O.P.E. Cider House and Winery, a minority owned business, hosted the Financial Freedom Through Entrepreneurship event.

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 woman-owned businesses to business counselors. If someone doesn’t know what their 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 Warren office.

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

Hill said the 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.

“Events like this are really gauged for the business owner, who may need our assistance, and we like to make them feel like royal kings and queens,” Hill said. “We feed them well. We put together a good presentation that is going to help their business go to the next level. I always tell clients, if you get one or two different things from every event, you are smarter than you were when you came in.”

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

Pictured at top: From left are Daniel Roberson, PNC community development officer; Stephanie Gilchrist, regional director of the Minority Business Assistance Center; Matthew Longmire, business resource manager at Valley Economic Development Partners; Shaundretta Boykins, manager of business development and entrepreneurship for the Ohio Minority Business Development Division; and Devyn Bellamy, HubSpotter and Black@INBOUND founder.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.