By Dee Manyama and Torin Darling Brazzle
It was in January 2022 when Prosper announced its plan to develop a Black Ecosystem Report as part of its Black-Owned Business Acceleration initiative. Prosper, which is a coalition of community, civic, and business leaders, plans to publish this report this fall to shed light on the current state of Black-owned businesses in Birmingham.
The Black Ecosystem Report is one of three pillars under Prosper’s Black-Owned Business Acceleration initiative. Other areas of the initiative include mentoring and coaching, and neighborhood investment. The report will allow Prosper Birmingham to understand the full scope of the current ecosystem, identify best practices to support the acceleration of Black-owned businesses in Birmingham, and invest in opportunities to foster collaborations and partnerships that will help these businesses thrive.
Some may be asking, what is the significance of this report and why is a report of this kind needed here in Birmingham? The truth is that many of our Black businesses are not growing or sustaining themselves. From lack of resources, access to capital, and systemic racism, there are a number of reasons why some Black businesses are not able to launch, sustain and scale their businesses. Black people are 28 percent of the region’s population but own only 3 percent of businesses with employees. That represents the largest racial disparity in business ownership among metro areas with more than 1 million people.
There is much more that can be done to ensure that Black entrepreneurs, business owners, innovators, and creatives can truly succeed here in Birmingham. This has been a focal point of Prosper since its inception. By creating this ecosystem report, we are able to identify the types of services, the impact of those services, duplication of efforts, service gaps, and where there are continued opportunities for investment. This report will also build and foster accountability among investors, business leaders, and organizations that provide support and resources for Black-owned businesses.
There has been a lot of movement to help bring this report together since the announcement was made. The report is being developed by a national community and economic development firm, Fourth Economy, who has been on the ground here in Birmingham speaking with Black-business owners across the city.
“Our process prioritizes moving past simply talking about opportunities or issues and instead encourages steps toward action,” said Fourth Economy’s Vice President of Engagement and Impact, Victoria Adams Phipps. “We engage stakeholders and residents who know the issues best, are willing to share their lived experiences, and are likely to be involved in implementation. This is key to developing realistic strategies and gaining buy-in from the broader community.”
We are looking forward to providing solutions for Black business owners here in Birmingham. For so long, our communities have been forgotten and not allowed the same opportunities to thrive. The Black Ecosystem Report will allow these business owners to have a seat at the table. This report is a crucial next step to identifying exactly what needs to happen.
To keep up on all the latest about the Black Ecosystem Report and the rollout of our findings, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @prosperbham. To receive news and updates about the report or want to get involved, visit www.prosperbham.com.
Dee Manyama serves as Initiative Director for Prosper, a coalition of community, civic and business leaders committed to creating a more productive economy. Torin Darling Brazzle is the Executive Director and Founder of IGNITE! Alabama, a holistic and supportive ecosystem with a core mission to educate, evolve, and bridge communication gaps between organizations, service providers, and minorities within Alabama.