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Program Launched to Elevate Black Entrepreneurs in Birmingham

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From left: Victor Brown, Partner, Birmingham Business Alliance; Clem and Tanesha Summers- Owners, Naughty but Nice Kettle Corn, Co.; Sherry-Lea Bloodworth Botop, Senior Vice President of Community and Economic Development for Hope Enterprise Corporation and Rashada Leroy, CEO of LRY Media Group. (Nicole S. Daniel, The Birmingham Times)

By Nicole S. Daniel

The Birmingham Times

 Prosper, a Birmingham-based nonprofit, on Thursday launched “Operation: Backing Black Businesses”, an initiative connecting entrepreneurs and business owners in the Birmingham area to the resources they need to excel.

Nearly 100 entrepreneurs, investors, industry leaders, Black-owned businesses gathered at Avenue D Events in Lakeview for the launch which included an extensive network of service providers and nonprofit organizations in the metro area.

Organizers said the goal is to assist entrepreneurs with business planning, marketing, accessing capital, developing a prototype, startup capital, and more.

“Operation: Backing Black Businesses is our effort to be intentional about elevating Black businesses in our community,” said J.W. Carpenter, Prosper’s Executive Director. “This initiative is a call to action for our community to equip and elevate Black businesses with all the resources they need to thrive.”

The event included a panel discussion, moderated by Rashada LeRoy, CEO of LRY Media Group, on how Black-owned and minority businesses can succeed in a challenging environment.

“You really have to believe and have that drive and great intentions,” said Victor Brown, Partner at Birmingham Business Alliance. “It starts with the mindset, have an idea of what you want the journey to be, have the belief and the positive attitude about what it takes to get there because you can do it regardless of the business you’re in.”

In addition to starting a business with her husband Clem, Tanesha Sims-Summers, Founder and CEO of Naughty but Nice Kettle Corn, said her biggest challenge when she started was “understanding everything wouldn’t be perfect.”

Summers said she gained experience by enrolling into several business accelerators to further her knowledge about the field.

“My perspective is [that] knowledge is free and you have to be intentional with getting the knowledge . . . on the flip side the most challenging part was starting to navigate to where I spend my time with these accelerators. Since we have been in business a lot has emerged and now it’s such a plethora of [accelerators] and businesses are wondering where do I spend my time? You have to implement what you have learned. Applied knowledge is power,” said Summers.

Sherry-Lea Bloodworth Botop, Senior Vice President of Community and Economic Development for Hope Enterprise Corporation, said the biggest challenge she tends to see with entrepreneurs is access to capital, or lack thereof.

“We’re actually working with some municipalities now and small business programs. One of the things we’re trying to talk the municipalities out of is not putting people through these one size fit all technical assistance or educational programs. Everybody doesn’t need to go through a six-week program to access a grant,” said Botop.

Anyone with an idea or existing business can utilize Operation: Backing Black Businesses to identify organizations and programs that can aid in their journey to start, scale, or sustain their business. The initiative is also valuable for governmental entities, funders, and philanthropists working to identify areas of opportunity for targeted investments or collaborative partnerships.

To learn more about Operation: Backing Black Business, the RFP, and the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem report visit www.prosperbham.com