If you’ve been feeling frustrated by the lingering roadblocks hindering small and medium business owners of color, the online forum hosted by the Boston Foundation on March 30 could provide an antidote. Entrepreneurs and a growing coalition of players in the philanthropy, nonprofit, business and—maybe most importantly—government sectors came together for the release of a new report and the launch of the Coalition for an Equitable Economy, an alliance of cross-sector stakeholders from across Massachusetts with a shared commitment to building an equitable small business ecosystem and the values of racial equity, collaboration and shared leadership.
Researcher Ben Forman of MassINC presented findings from the new report, titled Unleashing the Potential of Entrepreneurs of Color in Massachusetts, and set the stage for a conversation about the day-to-day struggles of business owners represented by those data, especially during the pandemic, and some of the work under way to try to correct underlying imbalances in the Massachusetts business ecosystem.
Chief among those imbalances is the difficulty that people of color and immigrants have in accessing capital. Often not connected to networks of generational wealth, linked to traditional venture capital networks, and sometimes “unbanked” or excluded from bank financing, entrepreneurs of color can find it extremely challenging to come up with start-up funds, or money to expand or COVID-adapt an existing business.
For example, Jay Candelario, who runs Jay’s Bed and Breakfast in a historic mansion in Holyoke,, told how the bank that has held his mortgage for 15+ years would not help him get PPP grants or other supportive funding. He found guidance and assistance instead with alternative organizations, such as the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, local nonprofits and more socially activist banks like Berkshire Bank. “The entrepreneur has to do everything in a small business and usually doesn’t have the capacity to go out and learn about the resources and opportunities that are available,” Candelario added.
Another imbalance comes from legacy systems for contractor approval, whose confines or complex hoops incline contracting organizations to stick to service providers they’ve always used. This makes it hard for new or smaller companies to break in. Institutions in our region typically rely on the city or union to determine who is “qualified.” JC Burton, who heads up
Dorchester-based Maven Construction, points out this restriction is unique to the region, so models for change abound elsewhere.
The Coalition for an Equitable Economy sees its role as addressing some of these critical areas. Glynn Lloyd of the Foundation for Business Equity, a founding member of the Coalition,and Corean Reynolds of the Boston Foundation’s Economic Development Program area shared some of the initiatives their organizations are pursuing to improve access and equity. The Commonwealth’s Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy talked about some of what the state has done, in line with the report’s recommendations, starting before the pandemic but continuing throughout in hopes of making our new normal more hospitable to entrepreneurs of color.
And there is growing support on in the Massachusetts Legislature. The two sponsors of “An Act to Promote Inclusive Entrepreneurship and Economic Justice” (SD 2387/HD 4004)—State Representative Antonio Cabral and State Senator Eric Lesser—were on hand to urge people to advocate in favor of it. Cabral called it “a holistic approach to ensure economic justice,” and Lesser said “it puts the findings of the report into action.” In closing, event moderator Betty Francisco summarized and thanked all the allies present, saying, “This speaks to the power of research and advocacy in driving change.”