A news segment I heard a month or so ago has stuck with me. A young man was being interviewed about his family’s successful salsa business, and he was explaining how it came to be. He shared how he took his grandmother’s salsa to an event and everyone raved about the dish. From there, he began to entertain ideas of possibly selling the salsa but realized he didn’t have the financial means.
He had the opportunity to connect with a small-business owner who allowed him and his family access to their commercial kitchen at no cost. This access was the catalyst that aided them in their success. The young man said that had this restaurant owner not given his family access to their restaurant’s kitchen, he was not sure they would have made the business happen. I loved the story and the happy ending, but also because I understand the struggle many multicultural business owners face in the early stages of startup.
The success rate of minority/multicultural-owned businesses is not great. Add the pandemic to that mix, and it’s an even bleaker picture. Before the pandemic, it was common knowledge that most small businesses were undercapitalized, and multicultural business owners were even worse off. According to NerdWallet.com, the Federal Reserve reports 80% of white business owners receive at least a percentage of the funding they request from a bank, compared with 66% of persons of color who own a business. And according to the Minority Business Development Agency, minority firms paid 7.8% in interest on average for loans, compared with 6.4% for non-minority firms.
The reasons for the difficulty include the inability to access financial or intellectual capital because of historical laws and practices as well as lack of knowledge. There is limited access to financial education that would aid them in successfully forming a business plan or viable growth plan that could carry their business for years to come. Some of these business owners step out on faith by leaning on prayers and positive thinking. As executive director for Springfield’s Multicultural Business Association, I have many conversations with small-business owners and hear similar stories regularly.
There are different funding opportunities, but navigating them can be time-consuming. There has been an increase in grants targeted toward multicultural business owners. Grants are also time-sensitive, and in some cases, knowing how to write a successful grant application is an important piece of getting it approved. Recently, obtaining U.S. Small Business Administration loans has become more difficult. Another option is the federal Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. These institutions work to ensure that 60% or more of their lending each year is focused on low- to moderate-income markets. This is a certification and mission taken very seriously. Currently, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have certified CDFIs available.
Springfield has a strong small-business community, and within this community, there is a micro minority/multicultural business community. The microcommunity tends to have limited capacity and operate with smaller staffing models. Many cannot open five days a week due to expenses. Several microbusinesses are in-home operations that also employ family members.
I am thankful we live in a city that is recognizing the needs of small businesses. An example is when Greene County began conversations about plans to provide funding for small businesses in the area through the American Rescue Plan Act. MBA contacted many small-business owners about this opportunity. The Downtown Springfield Association’s Ascend grant – which stands for Accelerating Springfield’s Commitment to Entrepreneurship, Networking and Diversity – was available to many entrepreneurs hoping to open a storefront business. Also, a marketing grant partnership with Drury University, the Multicultural Business Association and Community Foundation of the Ozarks has been a success this year. These initiatives have been well received and can continue to bring about positive outcomes for multicultural business owners.
While these are all great starts, there is still so much more work that needs to be done. Additional education tailored to each business model is important. These small-business owners are looking for opportunities and hope. They need our support and patronage. They need to feel connected and rooted in this great community.
It’s important that when people talk about the opportunities that exist right now, they should be able to see themselves in those spaces. Knowledge is power, and my mission is to empower as many multicultural business owners as I have the good fortune to meet in the Springfield area.
Darline Mabins is executive director of the Multicultural Business Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For most, winter offers a break from gardening. But there’s plenty of action at Amanda Belle’s Farm on East Primrose Street, a Springfield Community Gardens project at the edge of the Cox Medical Center South campus.