Black-owned businesses often face a big hurdle: a lack of access to capital they need to scale up their operations.
A grant program backed by General Motors aims to help change that. The automaker is funding $150,000 worth of “Scale-Up WNY” grants to 13 undercapitalized Black-owned and Black-led businesses in the region.
The grants are for either $10,000 or $15,000. A community development nonprofit, Local Initiatives Services Corp. of Western New York, is administering the program.
This is the second year for Scale-Up WNY, which focuses on bolstering Black-owned businesses in industries where projected demand for services outweighs the current supply.
“There is currently pent-up demand for services in several industries in Western New York, and consumers, businesses, contractors, and nonprofit organizations need that demand to be met,” said Tyra Johnson Hux, operations director of LISC WNY. “If we’re to make progress toward closing the racial wealth gap, then it’s critical that Black-owned businesses are given the resources, tools, and networks needed to fill the gaps that exist in the local economy.”
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The funds will go toward expenses such as upgrading equipment, obtaining insurance to bid on large projects, hiring subcontractors and support staff, and retaining and expanding jobs, program organizers say.
The Scale-Up WNY program is one a number of recent efforts designed to bolster Black-led and Black-owned businesses and organizations, including:
• The “Soil Fund,” newly created by LISC WNY, which plans to turn donations it receives into $15,000 “Groundswell Grants” to Black-owned and Black-led small businesses and nonprofit organizations on the East Side of Buffalo. The grants will be a show of community support following the racially-motivated mass shooting at a Tops market on Jefferson Avenue on May 14.
• The Buffalo Together Community Response Fund, which has provided $635,000 worth of grants – ranging in size from $5,000 to $20,000 each – to 85 Black-led area nonprofit organizations. The fund was created to address community needs in response to the mass shooting at Tops.
• M&T Bank’s Multicultural Small Business Innovation Lab, launched last fall to help grow small businesses on the East Side. The six-week program culminated with a pitch competition, with a total of $10,000 awarded to three of the businesses.
The Scale-Up WNY program’s newest grants are going to businesses involved in daycare, construction, drug testing, and consulting, among other fields. The goal is to help build up the recipients to become leaders in their industries.
Studies show greater access to capital is something Black business owners consistently identify as a need.
In a Bank of America study released last year, 56% of Black business owners surveyed said challenges accessing capital had limited their businesses’ growth. Similarly, in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation survey in late 2021, Black business owners cited access to capital as their second-biggest challenge, behind reduced consumer traffic during the pandemic.
And a 2020 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found the average level of startup capital among black entrepreneurs was $35,205, compared with $106,720 for white entrepreneurs. “Black entrepreneurs start businesses at a substantially smaller scale than white entrepreneurs, and while the disparity in later-stage capital injections narrows over time, they continue to take on less capital in the early years of the firm’s operation than white entrepreneurs,” the report said.
The Scale-Up WNY program aims to help close the gap for Black entrepreneurs.
“General Motors is thrilled to work with LISC WNY to help Black-owned businesses in Western New York build resilience and create inclusive, sustainable solutions to reach their goals,” said Terry Rhadigan, vice president of corporate giving at GM.
Digital media consultant Jamil Crews, owner of Crews Control Media, received a Scale-Up WNY grant in 2021, and said his business had its most successful year financially last year.
“That grant actually helped me a lot to be able to bring in some additional help for my business, which allowed me to be able to start to procure more contracts for my business,” Crews said in a recent podcast about the program.