Last edited 1:16 p.m., July 22, 2022
Chiseling away at a wealth gap that has kept capital out of the hands of minority-owned businesses is the goal of a new Downtown Springfield Association grant program.
Ascend, which stands for Advancing Springfield’s Commitment to Entrepreneurship, Networking and Diversity, is a program of the DSA and U.S. Bank, in partnership with the Multicultural Business Association, Efactory and the Missouri Small Business Development Center at Missouri State University.
Five Black-owned businesses received $5,000 each through Ascend in a presentation last month, and Rusty Worley, president of DSA, says another five will be announced in the coming weeks.
“We received such a strong set of applications that we went ahead and identified the next five recipients,” Worley said.
There were 51 applicants in the first round, and 15 finalists were interviewed by a selection committee.
The program exists to assist Black, Indigenous and people of color business owners in downtown or on Commercial Street with grants, as well as free consulting from the Missouri SBDC and Efactory and a one-year membership to the DSA and the Multicultural Business Association.
The first five grant recipients are MD Hair Supplies & More LLC, Eway Scooters LLC, Jamaican Patty Co., Bell’s Marketing Consultant and Mimi’s Soulfood LLC.
Ascend funds were made available through the U.S. Bank Foundation as a reflection of the bank's Access Commitment program.
In 2021, U.S. Bank provided $197 million in capital to Black-owned or -led businesses and organizations through its Access Commitment, according to the bank’s blog.
Worley said another round of funding will kick off in early 2023.
“We were thrilled with the number of applications and very pleased with the quality of applicants and the depth of what we received,” he said.
Darline Mabins, executive director of the Multicultural Business Association, said historically excluded groups are often undercapitalized.
Research bears this out. A 2020 study by the 12 Federal Reserve banks found just over 80% of white-owned businesses received at least a portion of the funding they sought from banks, but only 61% of Black-owned businesses were funded.
The same study found more than half of white business owners received the full amount they sought, compared to a quarter of Black business owners.
The disparity was true even for federal Paycheck Protection Program loans offered for coronavirus recovery. A 2021 Fed study showed Black-owned businesses were five times as likely to be denied funding as their white-owned counterparts.
Mabins said many Black, Indigenous and people of color-run businesses start small, often in their own homes.
“The majority don’t have that support system already in place, so they can’t count on wise counsel from a family member or friend of the family who owns their own business,” she said. “They’re starting out with a dream and a hope – and that’s it.”
The $5,000 Ascend grants can help with unanticipated costs, Mabins said.
“If you look at it through the lens of a small-business owner who doesn’t have enough money to pay rent or who wants to fill a pothole in their parking lot, that becomes a lot of money,” she said. “It’s more of a symbol of their ability to continue.”
Commitment to access
Eva Brown, based in Chicago as U.S. Bank’s segment leader for minority- and women-owned businesses, said she sees programs like Ascend as a necessary corrective to historic wrongs.
“We understand that financial institutions played a historic role in creating that wealth gap,” she said.
Brown said U.S. Bank researched the disparities facing minority-owned businesses and how they came to be, and the answer seemed to be about access – to capital, to information and to networking opportunities.
U.S. Bank began Access Commitment to provide one-on-one coaching and technical assistance, plus advisers who could identify helpful products and services even outside of the bank, Brown said.
Access to capital was found to be a particularly large need, Brown said, and the Ascend grants help to meet it.
“This grant can help them bolster their business, add employment opportunities and more,” she said. “The point is to help close the racial wealth gap by supporting entrepreneurship.”
Worley said DSA has partnered with U.S. Bank frequently in the past. When he learned of the Access Commitment program, he contacted the bank to set the wheels in motion for the Ascend grants.
One wall of MD Hair Supplies & More features long shelves of colorful wigs.
The store, at 811 E. Division St., provides hair and skin products for African American and biracial customers who currently have too few options, according to owner Marcie Davis.
The store opened three months ago and already gets rave online reviews from customers, often with a special shout-out to owner Davis.
“The owner is very sweet,” writes Shameka Whitehead in a recent Google review. “She helped me every step of the way and offered to bring in items I needed more of due to being a hairstylist in Springfield. Definitely recommend going to Ms. M.”
Davis said the grant will come in handy as she tries to meet a need in the region.
“It is actually opening the way to pay for some of these vendors that require $3,000 in orders before they’ll fill them,” she said. “There really is a huge need for these products.”
Here’s a look at the other grant recipients:
Marquez Williams opened Eway Scooters in 2020. Funds will be used to advertise its electronic scooters and host activities at community events, while also launching a new downtown location.
Williams was eager to show off his new space in the Efactory, a downtown site that is closer to university students and other potential users.
“It’s a better way to run a business,” he said.
Since Springfield City Council last month passed an ordinance allowing e-scooter rentals downtown, Eway is poised to begin to fill that need via the Bolt Mobility smartphone app, which provides the devices for 15 cents per minute, according to its website.
Jamaican Patty Co. has offered authentic Jamaican cuisine in Springfield since 2008. The restaurant is located at 3439 S. Campbell Ave. and also has a food truck.
Owner Du’Sean Howard plans to use his grant funds to add staff and expand to a spot downtown. He said he is looking for 500-1,000 square feet, with a budget of $1,000-$1,400 per month.
Bell’s Marketing Consultant was opened by Jonathan Bell in 2020 when he was still in high school. He graduated from Parkview High this past spring and now maintains offices in the Efactory. Bell said the funding for his growing business helps pay for more local jobs.
Bell recently hired two contract employees, Lennon Rauhoff, business development executive, and LaQuion Williams, marketing assistant. Williams is a Parkview student now, and Bell said that was important to him – to provide opportunity and give back. Both workers will cost the company $7,200 annually.
He added Efactory office space costs $3,600 per year, and the grant will come in handy.
“It feels great,” Bell said. “It just lets me know my vision is being noticed.”
Tonisha Manier opened Mimi’s Soulfood in June, and she sees her restaurant as a way to keep her grandmother’s cooking alive. Her specialty is a Cajun catfish dinner served on spaghetti.
Manier’s grant funds will pay for a wheelchair ramp and interior accessibility retrofits totaling $1,000, she said, plus $1,500 for signage and more to patch a parking lot pothole. Rent at the 533 S. Kimbrough Ave. location is $2,600 per month.
Even so, Manier said the funds mean so much more to her business than what they will buy.
“I feel like I reached out and reached out and reached out,” she said. “It was a huge thing, the community putting out that help for each finalist.” •
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