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When I started our family-owned Global Grocery Market in Brooklyn Park, our goal was to bring an ethnic grocery store serving authentic Asian, African, and Hispanic groceries directly to your doorstep and at your convenience. Our mission is to provide culturally diverse food to the community and have it accessible and available.
When the pandemic hit, my contingency plans went out the window, especially when we saw we were looking at more than a year of pandemic-related shutdowns and slowdowns.
For a business owner of color, the hurdles are higher. When building Global Grocery Market, the most important driver was access to startup capital. But studies have shown that White entrepreneurs are able to contribute considerably more personal equity to their new businesses than entrepreneurs of color do because White American families have nearly 10 times as much wealth as Hispanic or Black American families.
While inequities existed before the pandemic, over the last year, they have gotten worse. Beyond the physical toll of COVID-19, which affected women and communities of color, including Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and Asian American communities, among others, more severely than White ones, businesses owned by women and people of color have had less of a safety net to fall back on, have been more likely to close, and have had a harder time getting Paycheck Protection Program loans. Studies from 2020 showed that the pandemic shuttered Black-owned businesses at more than double the rate of white-owned businesses. It all leads to the deeply unequal recovery that we are just now embarking upon.
The journey ahead can feel discouraging, but the good news is that now I have a much better idea of what it will take to build an equitable road back and get businesses like mine on even footing.
First and foremost, there needs to be investment in businesses owned by people of color from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Last year, I applied to the Comcast RISE program, which since late 2020 has invested in nearly 8,000 businesses owned by people of color nationwide with monetary grants, technology makeovers and marketing services. I received the Tech Makeover award which provided relief when it was most needed. It has helped me to continue to be available online for my customers and had made it so much more efficient to work around the store.
We’re not the only ones. Comcast RISE plans to name 13,000 recipients by 2022. We need similar commitments from other corporations to level the playing field for business owners who are women and people of color.
Federal, state, and local recovery programs need to target minority and women entrepreneurs. Too many of the existing relief efforts have had limited application windows or been first-come-first-served, which disadvantages businesses that are already starting from behind. Local organizations like the Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Hmong Chamber of Commerce, and the Latino Chamber of Commerce Minnesota, can be useful allies in reaching businesses owned by historically disadvantaged groups.
Finally, financial institutions need better guardrails to ensure that they don’t discriminate against nonwhite business owners. When accessing startup capital, barriers still exist for minority entrepreneurs, and keeping checks and balances on those with the balance sheets is the only way to make sure all businesses are starting on equal footing.
That way, when the next crisis hits, you will have fewer businesses starting from behind, and we’ll all find our way to recovery much faster. For all of us, that is a business plan worth holding onto.