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Making Small Business Growth Happen

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Sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Inspiration was around every corner at the National Association of Black Journalist’s Annual Convention held Aug. 2-6 in Birmingham. Every discussion held the unmistakable tone of opportunity. Every conversation more energizing than the next.

Adding to the chorus was a panel discussion aimed at helping entrepreneurs grow and scale their small businesses, sponsored by JPMorgan Chase.

Moderated by Alfred Edmond, Executive Editor of Black Enterprise, panelists included Mikal Quarles, Head of Diverse Business Strategies, Business Banking, JPMorgan Chase; Susie Sturdivant, Founder, Little House for Little People Early Learning Center; and Mayor of Birmingham, Randall L. Woodfin.

Creating a vibrant small business ecosystem

For small businesses to survive and thrive, they need a healthy ecosystem to grow. Mayor Woodfin pointed out that it takes the public and private sector coming together to develop impactful growth strategies. It takes engaging leadership from City Hall, a collaborative business community, and creativity from local organizations to help entrepreneurs funnel their vision into sustainable businesses.

“Those who take risks, I’d like to say, we are grateful for you,” said Mayor Woodfin. “We need to invest in and take care of our small businesses.”

Mayor Woodfin and his team are doing exactly that through the city’s economic development team, which is uniquely focused on supporting minority and diverse-owned businesses.

“We need to listen more than we talk,” Mayor Woodfin said.

Birmingham has a Small Business Council, which consists of small business owners and entrepreneurs from various industries. While their products and services may differ, they share many of the same challenges. The Council convenes regularly to discuss challenges and barriers.

The city is all ears.

“We want to understand the challenges and work together to find impactful and sustainable solutions,” Mayor Woodfin said. “What are the barriers and how can we come together to overcome them?”

Access isn’t just about education

Entrepreneurs need capital to grow their businesses. Too often, accessing capital is a barrier.

As Head of Diverse Business Strategies for Business Banking at JPMorgan Chase, Mikal Quarles is leading a team dedicated to removing this barrier and providing more opportunity at the local level.

“It goes beyond education,” Quarles said. “We’re creating a platform to access education, opportunity, and capital. It all needs to come together and that’s the journey we’re on.”

Part of this work is simplifying the process for securing a small business loan.

Chase introduced the Special Purpose Credit Program in 2022, which improves access to credit for small business owners in historically underserved areas. The program is the first of its kind to be offered for small business owners nationally and one of many initiatives Chase has introduced to expand small business relationships, drive inclusive economic growth and increase access to credit for minority small business owners in a sustainable way.

Quarles says it’s also about surrounding yourself with the right support system.

JPMorgan Chase is developing a growing team of Senior Small Business Consultants around the country who specialize in coaching entrepreneurs on how they can successfully grow their business. These Small Business Consultants are focused on the future and how a business can be accountable and effectively measure success.

“It’s a personal approach to helping people focus their passion into a profitable business…and one that can grow now and, in the future,” Quarles said.

Growing a childcare business in Birmingham

For Susie Sturdivant, Founder of Little House for Little People Early Learning Center, it all began thirty-three years ago when she had to put college on hold to care for her three small children.

“I met some women at church who were running their own childcare centers and it inspired me to fill a need I knew was there,” Sturdivant said.

Shortly after, she opened her first licensed facility to care for four children. She eventually grew to serve more than 12 children and now leads a childcare center out of Bessemer, Alabama with more than one hundred kids.

“Having a support system is critical,” she said.  “Mentorship helped paved the way.”

Sturdivant also credits the team of people around her everyday…the people who help make her business run even when she isn’t in the building.

“You need to have people you trust. The business can’t grind to a halt if you’re not there. Life happens. You need to have people you can depend on and you need to tell them how much they mean to you,” Sturdivant said.

The formula has worked for her for more than thirty years and she doesn’t have to look far to recognize how far her business has come.

“Children I raised in the center years ago are now bringing in their children. It’s really come full circle,” she said.

Investing in Yourself and Forging Ahead

The region’s pulse is fueled by businesses like Sturdivant’s Little House for Little People Early Learning Center and thousands of others who take every day as a new opportunity to grow.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” said Mayor Woodfin.  “We need to create platforms where they can be successful for years to come.”

Susie Sturdivant’s advice to the next generation of entrepreneurs? Invest in yourself.

“Forget about the fancy cars or the lavish vacations,” she said. “Invest in your business and remember, success doesn’t come overnight.”

There will be challenges and obstacles, but you don’t have to take them on alone.

“Be intentional about what you’re seeking to accomplish,” Mikal Quarles said. “Have a plan and measure your progress.”

Starting and growing a business is challenging. It’s an undertaking to be admired. It’s a journey started typically with a single conversation.

“How many of you have conversations about money at the dinner table?” Quarles asked the audience. “You need to.”