Black women have long been one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs in the U.S., despite a systemic lack of access to capital. Now, the pandemic is not only disproportionately threatening their lives – it poses a danger to their businesses, too. A new incubation intensive created for Black and brown women entrepreneurs aims to address the disparities in access to funding.
Halcyon, a D.C.-based organization that supports entrepreneurship, has partnered with Black Girl Ventures, an organization that works to connect Black and brown women business owners with investors. Together, they’re offering participants of the eight-month program the opportunity and tools to refine their business plans and raise capital.
Participants in the program will have access to virtual coworking days, pitch practices, and office hours with mentors and advisers, and will receive a $5,000 stipend. They will also be invited to participate in a weeklong residency at Halcyon over the summer. The residency will include a Black Girl Ventures-style pitch event, giving founders a chance to present their businesses and secure funding.
“Halcyon itself is an organization that has been and continues to be committed to democratizing access,” says Halcyon’s chief development officer, Samantha Abrams. “Our fellows coming into our programs, 62% of them are people of color and 53% are women. It tells you a lot about our focus on making sure that is a truth we’re saying and not just a statement posted for optics.”
She adds, “We already had a focus on making this program, these resources and this support accessible to people of color – in particular, women.”
The intensive is being funded by Bank of America, and Abrams hopes the collaboration serves as an example for how corporate businesses can lend a hand to Black and brown-owned small businesses.
“We are very optimistic that this will be the first of many intensives where we’re focusing on a particular group of people who are disenfranchised and have been, and really [working] to democratize access in a real way,” she says.
In selecting the applicants who will be offered a spot in the intensive, Abrams says the goal was to get a diverse group of Black and brown women founders whose businesses are in varying stages. Some of the founders have already generated revenue from their businesses, while some have a business plan prepared and need help launching.
Regardless of what each founder’s unique needs may be, the intensive aims to give them space to talk through their ideas and roadblocks with advisers and polish pitches for investors.
“It’s that granular type of work that is so critical,” Abrams says.
Another goal of the selection process is gathering together a group that is complementary and not competitive, Abrams says. Previous Halcyon intensives have led to founders collaborating together and supporting each other’s businesses.
When it comes to providing mentorship and advice to women entrepreneurs, Abrams says the organizers of this intensive not only have business acumen, but life experience, too – herself included.
As a self-described serial entrepreneur with business experience in both corporate and nonprofit spaces, and co-ownership in SaPoDilla’s Caribbean Restaurant and Catering in Fort Washington, Maryland, Abrams has lived the reality of trying to build and maintain a business as a Black woman.
“I know the challenge, and I know what it feels like to be hunting for money. You know [your idea is] great. You know your product is exceptional. But you’re standing right in front of everyone, waving [and saying], ‘Look at me look at me.’ And they’re just kind of looking over you. [For] many of us, having [those] lived experiences really helps us to think through what our founders need.”
Halcyon: 3400 Prospect St. NW, DC; 202-796-4240; www.halcyonhouse.org
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