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PA Group Works to Encourage, Fund Black Entrepreneurs

by Danielle Smith, Keystone State News Connection

PA Group Works to Encourage, Fund Black Entrepreneurs

August is National Black Business Month, and this year, for Black-owned companies in Pennsylvania that have managed to survive through the pandemic, it’s reason to celebrate – or even start another business venture.

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Black communities, and on the 12% of businesses in the state with Black owners.

In Philadelphia, many turned to The Enterprise Center, which became a hub for loan activity. Iola Harper – senior executive vice president at the Center – said they were already working at a deficit when COVID hit.

So, the organization positioned itself to distribute funds, to help keep minority entrepreneurs afloat.

“We gave out $126 million in PPP loans,” said Harper. “We gave out $610,000 to barbershops and beauty salons. We gave out $100,000 in grants to one of the commercial corridors, 52nd Street, that we work with.”

Harper said the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team also chipped in, donating $500,000 that was distributed to 68 businesses.

She added that the Center is also mobile, with a “Biz on Wheels” vehicle that travels to commercial corridors and works with small companies to provide them with technical assistance and business resources.

The Enterprise Center has launched a new Innovate Capital Growth Fund – a licensed Small Business Investment Company, or SBIC – to focus exclusively on investing in minority and women-owned businesses.

Harper explained that small, low-wealth companies usually begin with debt, because they don’t have the equity to use for acquiring startup capital.

“But what we’ve seen is businesses that are more prosperous, they may start with family and friends’ money, they may start with investments, they may start with angel capital,” said Harper. “We are working through the SBIC to make equity investments available to people who don’t typically get equity investments.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest figures, there are almost 135,000 Black-owned businesses with at least one employee, in all sectors of the U.S. economy.