UW report seeks to level playing field for BIPOC businesses

In an effort initiated as one of the priorities in the City’s inclusive growth plan, Growing with Equity, and intensified amid widespread calls for racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of local stakeholders—including United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce, and Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation - have announced a groundbreaking report assessing the state of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) entrepreneurship in Philadelphia and addressing historical racial inequities among small businesses of color.

The report, titled Philadelphia Equitable Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Assessment and Strategy, builds on existing investments by the City, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, and PIDC in enhancing Philadelphia’s entrepreneurial landscape and delivering flexible capital to small businesses.

Supported by an expert team of researchers from Urbane, Next Street, Econsult Solutions, and SourceLink®, the report aims to leverage locally relevant insights gathered from scores of public and private datasets. It also incorporates feedback from interviews, focus groups, and survey responses from nearly 250 small business owners and 79 capital and business support organizations, and input from a 30+ member advisory council of local business owners, community-based organizations, capital and service providers, city government officials, and philanthropic institutions to identify best practices for building a holistic entrepreneurship ecosystem to level the playing field for entrepreneurs and small business owners of color.

The resulting report culminates into a set of community-informed recommendations that aims to build a more inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem for BIPOC-owned businesses in Philadelphia, narrow racial disparities in business ownership, and create a more equitable and thriving small business landscape for all. Proposed next steps seek to address historical racial barriers limiting access to guidance, capital, business education, and growth opportunities; respond to the ongoing economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic; and create new avenues for the city’s entrepreneurs to start, sustain, and scale their businesses. Collaborative funding strategies are also being pursued to resource the implementation of these proposed solutions, the ongoing collaboration, as well as opportunities for an immediate infusion of local funding to foster economic recovery among the city’s BIPOC-owned small businesses.

“Nearly all small businesses have felt the effects of COVID-19, but BIPOC entrepreneurs have been especially challenged,” said Michael Banks, Managing Director, Employment, Opportunity & Entrepreneurship at United Way. “Investing in entrepreneurs of color is critical, not only for increasing diversity in business ownership but for bringing much-needed and accessible jobs to communities suffering from decades of disinvestment. This report serves as a guide for how we can work together to provide long-term solutions for a more equitable Philadelphia.”

“After several years of strong economic growth in Philadelphia, the pandemic and resulting economic crisis have presented an unprecedented challenge for local businesses, especially minority-owned businesses that have traditionally faced barriers,” said Philadelphia Commerce Director Michael Rashid. “As we work to drive an inclusive recovery in the wake of the pandemic, this initiative and the recommendations from this assessment represent a major step forward in elevating opportunities for people of color, women, and immigrants who are underrepresented in the Philadelphia business community. We're greatly appreciative of the work of the research firms and our economic development partners as we seek to implement solutions to break down the barriers that inhibit the growth of businesses from historically disadvantaged backgrounds."

“Over the last year, PIDC has worked with our partners to design and deliver relief programs to support the small businesses in our community that have been hit the hardest as part of our strategy to respond to the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. We have sought to address the devastating impacts on entrepreneurs of color in particular,” said Anne Bovaird Nevins, President of PIDC. “This comprehensive report and the proposed solutions will guide our strategy to deploy PIDC’s resources in ways that address racial inequity and poverty in Philadelphia, particularly by supporting the growth, resilience, and wealth creation of BIPOC-owned businesses.”

“As a 13-year-old black-owned business born in North Philly, the systemic challenges to growth and prosperity for BIPOC entrepreneurship in the city—from access to flexible, patient capital to navigating the labyrinth of Philly’s regulatory and compliance environment—is a shared experience by my firm and firms across the city,” says James Johnson-Piett, Principal and Founder of Urbane, a social-impact strategy and development firm and key member of the report’s research team. “We are honored to have elevated such an important initiative and to shed light upon key solutions involved in working toward creating a more equitable and fair entrepreneurial environment for businesses of color in Philadelphia.”

Based on input from local entrepreneurs, small business stakeholders, and the research teams involved in the report and analysis, below is an overview of proposed solutions to address these disparities within Philadelphia’s entrepreneurship ecosystem:

Access to Capital

  • Create catalytic capital pools for place-based investments
  • Establish an integrated community of practice of equity and equity-like investors
  • Form “friends and family” capital funds
  • Introduce revolving line of credit products

Market Opportunities

  • Integrate supplier diversity initiatives citywide
  • Build tailored, industry-specific accelerators

Trusted Guidance

  • Create a network of trusted, local pro-bono consultants
  • Subsidize access to a collective of small BIPOC professional service providers
  • Establish a collaborative e-commerce support program
  • Create a comprehensive online small business advocacy and resource navigator hub

Ecosystem Infrastructure

  • Form a collaborative of funders dedicated to supporting equitable small business
  • Establish capacity building programs for local capital and service providers
  • Establish an ecosystem-wide advocacy and public relations platform

As a firm focused on developing inclusive small business solutions and a track record of conducting over 25 small business ecosystem assessments across the country, Next Street brought their national perspective into this assessment. “We recognize Philadelphia as a unique wellspring of opportunity for entrepreneurial innovation. It is woven into the city’s rich history. And yet, we are excited to see Philadelphia now organize and prioritize in a more collaborative and inclusive way, therein nurturing BIPOC small businesses and attracting healthy investment to support BIPOC business growth and long-term sustainability,” Next Street’s Managing Partner, Charisse Conanan Johnson shares.

In fall 2021, a microsite is planned to launch, which will further outline the key findings of the report and feature interviews and videos of local small businesses and entrepreneurs. For more information, and for the full copy of the Philadelphia Equitable Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Assessment and Strategy report, please see here.

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