Minding the Gap: Enterprise Wealth

March 19, 2024

The second event in the Minding the Gap series exploring the nature and dynamics of wealth and its inequities in our society was held on March 19. The virtual forum, hosted by the Boston Foundation, featured two panels focused on enterprise wealth; that is, the relationship of entrepreneurship and business ownership to personal, generational, and community wealth.

As in the first Minding the Gap event on land wealth, the conversation was moderated by Courtney Brunson, Director of the Greater Boston Partnership to Close the Racial Wealth Gap. 

The first panel included leaders of nonprofits whose missions are to support entrepreneurs and grow community-based businesses. While each takes a different angle or serves a different community, all agreed: Access to affordable capital is extremely hard to find. Budding business owners spend inordinate amounts of time seeking it out and being delayed or rejected—especially if they are people of color, women, or immigrants. A lot of the work of the panelists’ nonprofits is aimed at connecting clients to capital. Sophan Smith of E for All – Merrimack Valley described the business basics training it provides participants, which ends with a course on how to ask for money. CommonWealth Kitchen’s Jan Faigel added, “Preparing business owners is essential. But if we don’t change the other side of the story, we’re stuck. We have to train the systems on the lending side so they know that return on investment considerations have to include impact. Nicole Obi of BECMA drove the point home in noting,It’s important to change the mindset from our work being charity to that it’s an investment. Nobody starts a business in order to get a grant.”

The panelists discussed changes and lessons learned from their pandemic experiences, how to bring government at all levels into the picture, and advice they’d offer to prospective businesses. To the latter, all agreed: “Dream big and don’t go it alone.”

After this exploration of the sector by those serving it broadly, the second panel drilled into the on-the-ground experiences of three local business owners. Despite working in disparate fields—food service, business-to-business tech consulting, and construction—the three entrepreneurs’ experiences showed considerable overlap, and corroborated the observations of the first panel. 

They spoke about how and why they started their businesses and what some of the biggest challenges were. Unsurprisingly, access to capital was a challenge for all, and the more recent surge in costs of goods and services was hitting hard. The two combine often, as My Lam of Nicoya Construction explained: If you win a building contract, you have to buy almost all your construction materials up front so as not to lose earnings to inflation. But you have to have the capital to pay for it before the job has paid you.

This panel also addressed adaptations learned through the pandemic, how they gain needed expertise, collaboration among small businesses, and youth and generational involvement in businesses. A hot topic for all of them was policy, which heated up when Brunson asked, “What do you wish decision-makers knew about small businesses?”

Restauranteur (and with that, “HR person, menu creator, marketing director, and sometimes psychologist”) Nivia Pina-Medina said, “I wish they would bring us to the table so they could hear about what we deal with every day…. Forget about our accents or what we look like. Look at the work we do and how we build the country.” And the information flow needs to go both ways, as Brendan Albrizio of Seaport Consulting said: “I would just love to know more about the policies and things that are happening that might affect small businesses, for example with the Mass Supplier Diversity Office. We got certified as a small business and haven’t heard anything since the interview process.” That tracked for Lam, who said, “I’ve been on a lot of commissions and committees and meetings but its tough to get people’s attention once the meeting is over. Bureaucrats just keep doing what they do.”

The earlier panel had noted that Mayor Wu has so far increased supplier diversity spend from 6 percent to 14 percent, which is significant, but leaves a long way to go. 






Welcome and Opening Remarks
Courtney Brunson
Director, Greater Boston Partnership to Close the Racial Wealth Gap at The Boston Foundation


Business Incubators & Advocates

Jen FaigelExecutive Director, CommonWealth Kitchen
Nicole ObiPresident and CEO, Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA)
Sophan SmithExecutive Director, Entrepreneurship for All – Merrimack Valley

Business Owners 
Brendon Albrizio
Partner & Head of Operations, Seaport Consulting
My LamOwner, Nicoya Construction
Nivia Pina-MedinaOwner, La Fabrica/Dona Habana/Vejigantes

 Audience Q&A
Courtney Brunson