Recap: #LetsTalkBusiness Virtual Roundtable NWBC & NEC
Focus of Discussion
On February 4th, 2022, the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) together with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center (NEC) convened women business owners and entrepreneurs, government officials, resource partners, and other key stakeholders to address the ongoing challenges many BIPOC women entrepreneurs and founders continue to face when attempting to access equitable financing opportunities to fund a new or growing business.
The roundtable discussion centered on identifying barriers to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) women’s entrepreneurship, and more specifically, focused on identifying innovative approaches and best practices that may be leveraged to increase equitable access to traditional as well as non-dilutive financing opportunities, including by taking into consideration new criteria, which accounts for women BIPOC founders’ legitimate and important “lived experiences.”
NWBC’s Executive Director Tené Dolphin delivered opening remarks and welcomed all participants and attendees to this virtual event. NWBC Council Member and Access to Capital and Opportunity Subcommittee co-chair Nicole Cober, helped moderate the roundtable alongside founding NEC’s Executive Director, Nicola Corzine. Roundtable participant speakers included:
- Anika Hobbs, CEO/Lead Curator at Nubian Hueman
- Tameka Montgomery, CEO at Core Strategy Partners, Inc.
- Diedre Windsor, President and CEO of Windsor Group LLC
- Jill Johnson, Co-founder/CEO of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL)
- Sara Razavi, CEO at Working Solutions CDFI
- Jenny Flores, Head of Small Business Growth Philanthropy at Wells Fargo
- Therese Meers, Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Capital Access, U.S. Small Business Administration
Summary of Key Takeaways
NWBC roundtables help identify possible gaps and/or needs for research as well as serve as a springboard for Council Member deliberations and ultimately development of NWBC’s annual policy recommendations. Below are some high-level key takeaways from this discussion:
- Black females get such a limited amount of funding from VC, that some don’t try or don’t pursue it at all to avoid disappointment and the discouragement.
- Many investors are willing to provide feedback and encouragement but are not necessarily willing to cut a check.
- Innovation and prototyping can be very expensive and can potentially become a ruinous proposition for some BIPOC women entrepreneurs.
- Many investors fail to see or acknowledge that the marketplace is shifting, and that demand is coming from new consumers, including from “black and brown” populations with discretionary income who are increasingly demanding culturally curated experiences and products different from what is currently available in more mainstream markets.
- Capital funding/financing should be designed to enable people to “get traction” and “create a bridge to other forms of capital.”
- Retirement funds and other forms of personal assets as well as individuals’ personal credit are at risk when opting to “bootstrap” a business.
- “Women of color founders account for only 0.6 percent of all VC funding.”
- SBA’s loan programs and entrepreneurial education resources are a great place to start when looking to get mentorship opportunities, put a business plan together, and/or acquire some startup capital. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs who have lost their businesses due to a national economic downturn may still be denied a loan or critical service, despite having assets and a robust business pipeline in place.
- Black women entrepreneurs who have promising ideas, passed performance, and are nonetheless experiencing financing inequities to help scale their business need a special network of support and advocacy.
- The lack of equitable financing for BIPOC women entrepreneurs is a “systemic” problem and does not stem, for the most part, from the entrepreneurs themselves. It is the system that needs to change.
- Entrepreneurs do not need more education, mentoring, or talk. Rather, they need money, and when investors invest, they naturally have an interest in mentoring the business owner and to provide guidance.
- On-ramps need to be designed in such a way as to allow BIPOC entrepreneurs to create a bridge to other forms of capital that already exists—to various capital stacks. CDFIs and even traditional lenders may not be positioned to absorb this kind of risk at the very early stages of startup so there is a role and an opportunity for SBA and the government to step in.
- Policy has the power to unlock massive systems and opportunities and it may be time to consider what is “the next HR 5050,” looking at policy changes that can truly accelerate women’s business enterprise as well as incent more women to become investors, while also making decision-makers feel rewarded and protected in moving their capital into areas that have traditionally been considered “riskier.”
- An entrepreneur raised the question as to why businesses who are generating revenue in the millions and have all their paperwork in place are still being denied financing.
- Discrimination is real and experienced by many BIPOC women entrepreneurs. As such, more transparency is needed in the financial industry with respect to data and why certain individuals are being denied credit. This may be coming soon via implementation of Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act.
- More transparency and better data should also be matched with more diverse, and “better representation” in the lending, underwriting, and investor communities.
- In addition to ensuring more diversity and better representation, organizations like CDFIs need to be adequately capitalized to be successful.
Opening Remarks & Featured Video
NWBC Executive Director Tené Dolphin delivered opening remarks, introduced roundtable moderators and participants, and provided background on the NWBC and NEC.
She also introduced a featured a video from the Venture Equity Project titled “Accelerate Investment in Entrepreneurs of Color.” Below are just a few notable quotes from some of the entrepreneurs who shared their unique lived experiences and how persistent challenges to accessing equitable financing continues to be one of the most significant barriers to women’s business ownership:
- D Marie, CEO & Founder, MyRA Technologies: “So as far as my challenges when it comes to raising capital … I have just opted to go the route of either pitch competitions or grants or really just bootstrapping this on my own.” She later went on to say: “I just feel like the goalposts for myself and other individuals like me are just constantly moving.” And further added: “You know, the stats are out there that black females get such a limited amount of funding from VC anyways, I think that just to save myself the disappointment and the discouragement, I … have just opted to go the pitch competition or the grant route.”
- Kimberly Evans, Founder & CEO, Just Her Rideshare: “Between meetings with investors, accelerators, [and] filling out grants … pitch competitions—I’ve had a total of about 60 plus—and I’ve got to tell you it’s really frustrating.” She also emphasized: “I’ve met some amazing investors, I’ve gotten some really great feedback, they tell me there is room for us in the market, but no one is cutting the check.”
- Jacquelyn Clemmons, Founder & CEO, Okionu Birth Foundation: “So far our biggest capital raising challenges have been just around being a new startup. So, its super … important to have organization who are willing to go out on a limb and help us as we are building from the ground up.” Ms. Clemmons also shared: “We have gotten amazing feedback from potential funders about how they really would like to support us, but they really want to see data outcomes and they really want to see us with a little more experience before investing in us.”
- Topaz Smith, Founder, EN–NOBLE: “Many times investors are looking for 10x businesses, unicorns, in order to, you know, back. ‘This is not a 10x business, we don’t know how to help you, you need to start small, maybe this isn’t something that can do well…’” (sharing what investors have expressed to her in the past). She added: “There also has been challenges around them seeing that the marketplace is shifting and that there is demand coming from new consumers in the marketplace, so black and brown people who have discretionary income and are wanting to experience cultural experiences that are different, from what’s currently in the marketplace. So, there’s been a lack of understanding.”
- Marie Roker-Jones, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Essteem: “As a black female founder some of the challenges I face include receiving conflicting information or feedback around our product and what we’re building.”
- Dr. Charmain Jackman, Founder & CEO, InnoPsych Therapist of Color Directory: “I had no idea about funding sources other than getting a loan, so that already speaks to the lack of access to knowledge that I had about funding businesses.” She later went on to note that: “Women of color founders account for only 0.6 percent of all VC funding.” She ended by stating that: “As a black woman solo-founder, I feel that I have three strikes against me, but I know that I have a solid product that is in high demand. So, I will keep on looking—I’m going to find it!”
- Annette Bentley Smith, Founder & Writer, AnneCorp Literary Works/Plush-Tales:” I have lost thousands and thousands of dollars trying to create my first … prototype.”
- Dia Pfleger, President & CEO, DPA Global Consulting: “Everything that I’ve done so far has been 100 percent funded by my 401K, so I [dug] in my pockets to get my dream going, and it’s been quite difficult to get loans … just because of the interest rates … so, they want near perfect credit.”
Q&A and Open Discussion
Following the video, Executive Director Dolphin turned over the discussion to our roundtable moderators—Nicole Cober and Nicola Corzine—as well as our featured participants.
NWBC Council Member Nicole Cober opened the discussion by sharing her background as a woman entrepreneur of color, noting that this day of the roundtable marked the 20th anniversary of her starting on the path of the entrepreneurial journey and obtaining her first SBA loan. “I am the poster child for every access to capital program, but 20 years ago, I left corporate America … and I went on the [SBA] website and I scoured [it] for how to start a small business.” Council Member Cober went on to highlight some of the agency’s and resource partners’ signature programs including SCORE, entrepreneurial education and business development resources to help entrepreneurs develop a business (available at SBA.gov), as well as the agency’s “504 loan program to purchase a building and a 7(a) loan program for startup capital”.
Ms. Cober also shared her past experiences dealing with a fractured economy, which led to the loss of her business after being in operations for 10 years, sharing the need to reinvent herself and start over. She also reflected on how this experience allows her to better understand what entrepreneurs go through, and what they have been going through since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She further noted that while the PPP program (Paycheck Protection Program) might have had some imperfections at the start, the program ultimately did help salvage many businesses and provided a critical lifeline.
Finally, during her introduction, she underscored that as a member of NWBC and co-chair of the Access to Capital Subcommittee for the past three years, she has heard stories like her own, with successes and some challenges with access to capital. “I really want to help and be an advocate for black women entrepreneurs who have great ideas, who have passed performance, and are still experiencing inequities in their search for scaling their business.”
Nicola Corzine congratulated Nicole Cober for her twenty years as an entrepreneur and thanked her for sharing her story honestly and describing what entrepreneurship “looks like and feels like… the messiness of the highs and the lows.” Ms. Corzine also went on to say: “We are here to discover and start moving toward some of those hopeful, forward-looking actions that can change that perspective for all those incredible women entrepreneurs that are here today, and those that are to come.” She also congratulated Ms. Cober for her efforts leading the BOW Collective, a new professional organization and nonprofit of black women business owners led by Ms. Cober and “dedicated to bringing financial opportunities to scale businesses that exceed 1 million [dollars] in annual revenue.”
Ms. Corzine introduced herself and shared her story as a daughter of an entrepreneur as well as her own lived experiences as an entrepreneur herself— “some great and some not so great.” She spoke about her own experiences and how these changed the way she viewed and understood the importance of access to resources, also noting she felt lucky to have access to some of these resources but also became aware of “how much more [she] needed to know.”
After some time in investment banking, she spent a decade in venture trying to propel women entrepreneurs forward, but also realized “how much more there was left to do in that entrepreneurial journey,” which led her to the next phase of her career as founding Executive Director of NEC—”a home for global entrepreneurs.” She invited all panelist to join the discussion. “We are here to make progress in a direction that matters.”
The conversation was kicked off with questions directed to the funders. The first question centered around what is truly fueling investments in women entrepreneurs. Ms. Corzine asked the participants to “discuss ideal networks and educational and funding entrepreneurial models.”
Jill Johnson shared that her start on the entrepreneurial journey was “as a kid with her parents owning a newspaper publishing business”—one publication noted was The Minority Business Journal of New York and New Jersey. “So, my father was hosting sessions like this … talking about access to capital. While it is great to have that insight, the thing that is discouraging however, is that this conversation could have been the same conversation back then. The conversation hasn’t changed unfortunately … That part is discouraging but it gives me the motivation to keep on fighting the fight and pushing forward.”
She shared that IFEL has focused its efforts “at the systemic level” because “the problem is not with the entrepreneurs; it is with the system.” Ms. Johnson underscored that it is the system that needs to change, and that the entrepreneurs are not the ones that are broken, but rather the system is broken. Additionally, with respect to models that work, it is primarily investing in these entrepreneurs that is needed—what they need is the funding and not necessarily more education. “They do not need more education, mentoring and talk, they need money… and when investors invest, they have an interest in the business owner and … they provide the mentorship and educational guidance … So, groups like Golden Seeds and Impact Seed and Pipeline Seed and Portfolia, and all these groups that invest in women, that is what we need more of.”
Ms. Flores who heads small business growth philanthropy at Wells Fargo shared that over the last twenty years she has focused her professional efforts on “moving billions of dollars into communities of color and for women.” She also underscored with respect to best practices, that it all comes down to intention, stating: “Are you really trying to solve this problem or are you trying to market around it?… And intention shows up, and it shows up in the data because it doesn’t lie.”
She went on to share that in 2020 as a response to COVID, the organization donated all the PPP fees it collected from that year to create an “Open for Business Fund” with the intention to keep women of color and BIPOC businesses open. “We were shocked at how many businesses were closing,” Ms. Flores further commented. The intention behind this initiative was to give those entrepreneurs who needed a grant an actual grant (rather than a loan), or give CDFIs a reserve, or renegotiate the terms of a loan giving business owners ample time to pay. “It is the flexibility that we built in that mattered.”
“All of us that have the privilege of being investors, need to be very thoughtful and partner with communities to design solutions,” she continued.
Nicola Corzine agreed that the solutions can’t be “one-size fits all,” keeping in mind BIPOC women’s “lived experiences.”
Ms. Razavi spoke to her organization’s focus on community development as a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution), which she opined have had increasing visibility, especially during economic downturns, unfortunately. Further, CDFIs have become even more well known since the onset of the pandemic.
She also shared that much like some of the previous presenters, she is a child of immigrants who “made their way to the American dream by way of entrepreneurship.” After coming to the U.S. from Iran at ten years of age, her mother gained her footing by opening two small businesses—a translating business and small bookstore—after finding a community of micro and small business entrepreneurs. However, it was not until Ms. Razavi attended business school that business and finance “became demystified”—citing several examples, including, understanding that a balance sheet merely provides information on what a business owner has and what losses may have been might incurred.
“I started really recognizing that some of this language is intentional to keep folks unaware of wealth. What is a balance sheet; what is an income statement; why are they different?… Why is cash flow the most common use of a financial statement for many of our businesses, and yet we grade them on balance sheets that many haven’t put together yet?” She further opined that there is intentionality in keeping certain individuals out of the financial mainstream.
Ms. Razavi also noted that through her work at a CDFI she is better positioned to focus on impact by, in part, demystifying the language of finance and capital. “I think the intent of CDFIs is to sit down with specific populations, meet them where they are, and recognize with intention there is a reason why you have had limited access to capital. There is a reason we have been having the same dialogue for many, many decades.” She then went on to note that Working Solutions is a Wells Fargo, “Open for Business” grantee—poised to support small business owners with grants or with debt relief, or to help entrepreneurs take a pause and soften the blow from balloon payments, helping mitigate the stress of borrowers, so they can ultimately pay their lender back.
Nicola Corzine then presented statistics on funding for BIPOC women, who are getting lower amounts of funding. For example, women of color founders account for only 0.6 percent of all VC funding.
Ms. Corzine highlighted some relevant, but daunting statistics that show: “BIPOC women are getting lower amounts of funding, they are getting harder hit with the rates, and their valuations are not … where they need to be when compared to male business owners.”
Ms. Corzine again turned to the funders to ask what can be done so that these issues no longer persist.
Ms. Johnson proposed that it might be because of how we are looking at venture capital (VC) these days. “Venture capital is for a very, very, very… small sliver of the population. The media makes it seem like everyone is just going out there and getting VC money—well, they’re not. Now, that is not at all to let the VC community off the hook… They have a long way to go, but when we’re talking about… the general access to capital issue, that’s not really the place to look. It’s how do people get an on-ramp to venture capital, to even bank debt, right? That starts with personal wealth, so that is where we have to address the issues of the wealth gap more broadly.” She further underscored that it starts with having the personal wealth or being in the position to access the personal wealth of friends and family.
The stories from entrepreneurs saying that “they bootstrapped their business” usually come from well-funded individuals and not typically from BIPOC women entrepreneurs. “When we hear that we say that’s not bootstrapping in our world. In our world we’re trying to rub together two nickels, and trying to make that stretch, and make it any way we can, which then results in a low credit score because we we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, just trying to keep our businesses afloat… and the system is designed to ding you for that… you don’t get credit for being innovative and creative and keeping your business afloat. That is deemed to be a negative.”
She further suggested that the focus needs to be on providing that “early capital” and giving due consideration to which institutions can absorb that kind of risk. “CDFIs while doing an amazing job, are not designed to absorb that kind of risk at the very earliest stages, before there’s the traction. Banks themselves are not designed to absorb that risk. The kind of capital that is needed really has to be something… that is designed to enable people to get traction and to create a bridge to other forms of capital that already exist, and that is why I think there is a role for the SBA and government to step in.”
Ms. Corzine then turned to Ms. Flores to comment further on the idea of leveraging on-ramps to ensure equitable opportunities to “capital stacks” so that financing is available “later on, down the road.” She specifically asked: “Has there been anything that you’ve seen emerge from all the incredible BIPOC women you support that has inspired you, around where and how change is showing up?”
Ms. Flores emphasized the issue is systemic. “I often think about the fact that before the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) women couldn’t apply for a [loan] on their own… you needed a male co-signer… and then in the eighties we got the [Women’s] Business Ownership… bill … women could apply for small business loans without a male co-signer, we got Women’s Business Centers, National [Women’s] Business Council, we got the Census tracking… [women-owned] business more accurately. So, I really feel like policy oftentimes unlocks massive systems and opportunities, and I think it’s time we consider what is that next HR 5050. What do we need to get behind that accelerates venture, that accelerates more women to understand [that they] can also be good investors… and how do we get protections as we move our money into these areas that are considered ‘risky’”?
Co-moderator Nicole Cober than directed the next set of questions to small business owners and asked them to “share their own personal stories” and lived experiences, calling first on a BOW collective member Diedre Windsor to share her experiences accessing capital.
Ms. Windsor is a retired army officer and former federal government career executive who quit her job in 2016 to start her own business. “In 2017 we started in earnest…our first year of business we probably made about 100 grand…in 2020 we got to about 2.5 [million], and last year we close to tripled and we’ve never been able to get a loan.” She went on to share that initially she bootstrapped leveraging credit first then going to friends and family. However, she noted “individuals are not positioned to absorb a loss if you cannot pay them back.”
She also emphasized it is important to identify where the real problem lies in, with the respect to the issue of “intention.” She asked: “Well, who takes that [intention] to the underwriter? Because that is where the block is… and you are talking to the same processor a hundred times, asking you the same questions… And now my number one source of capital nowadays [are] my clients… so it’s our company’s revenue… but why do I need a network… if on paper it says what it needs to say? So yeah, it is a struggle, it’s tough.”
She concluded by saying that financing should be based on the merits, “what’s on paper”. She also shared that although she is not able to absorb the risk, she has found herself lending money to other women business owners for payroll because she recognized they are dealing with the same struggle she has dealt with. “We are contributing to society, we are contributing to people’s livelihoods, so how do we get to a place where that is enough?”
Co-moderator Nicole Cober agreed: “These are not stories, [this] is our lives…We’re trying to create a network. Black women don’t have a network… You have to wonder is race a factor when all objective criteria are made right?… When is it appropriate or relevant to say maybe there is some discrimination that may be attributable for these women that are highly successful but are still being denied?”
Ms. Corzine directed the discussion back to the funders: “It is important to have allies and so I turn it back to Jenny—what do you say to people that say I’ve checked all the boxes and I was still denied? Do you see discrimination?”
“Well let’s just put it this way, I’m Latina. My Mom is a business owner [and] she experiences it. And so, I see clearly from where I sit, I perceive that there is bias. I perceive it.” She went on to share a personal story of how her mother had been poorly treated while doing business at a national bank, and how she had to help advocate for her mother’s customer rights. “I mean I get it, I’m in banking. I know how the system works. We know, we feel it, we know that something’s wrong.”
Referencing The State of Latino Entrepreneurship report she underscored … “When you look at Latino business and you control for business performance… the same performance… Latinos who applied for loans and were 100 thousand, 20% get approved… 50% of the white counterparts… So, we need transparency in the industry. Why are people getting declined, what is their background?”
“You’re right Jenny, the data is coming. The Dodd-Frank Act of 10 years ago is now going to be realized in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s [implementation of section] 1071… I say all this because this is a smart group to understand the policy will follow.”
Ms. Razavi also opined that the data may likely show some financial institutions never really reached out to [underserved] communities to “even get them through the door, to inform them.” She continued, “there is not going to be deep change until there is representation. The person sitting across from you, the lender sitting across from you has to be a person of color… and a woman of color so they understand what you mean when you say there is a little bit of discrepancy in your flow or hours for your staff or clientele—it is a little bit different, because frankly most of them are parents.”
She added: “And the lived experience comes into play when we recognize not everyone who applies for those jobs may seem qualified for those jobs… and we have to [recognize] those barriers as well.”
Ms. Montgomery, a business owner, formerly served at SBA under the Obama Administration heading the Office of Entrepreneurial Development, overseeing all resource partners. She noted that at the conclusion of the Obama Administration, leadership was looking at lending in underserved markets.
She added: “But something else we want to think about is not only the representation of those individuals who are lending the money, but then also, one of the things we need to work on is more individuals of color who are leading organizations in the way Sara is leading them, that they are capitalized to be successful… those organizations are experiencing those very same problems that the entrepreneurs are dealing with, which impacts their ability to really help those businesses, grow, and scale.”
“We also have to look at how we are funding organizations that are led by people of color.”
Ms. Hobbs shared her experience as a retailer: “I’m a retail queen, I love brick-and-mortar. And of course, it’s been very tough… before the pandemic and during the pandemic, being in a space that serves black and brown people, and a brick-and-mortar space that serves black and brown people. I know for me that the staggering statistics already creates mentally a barrier for entry for us.”
She also went on to comment that the tailored products to her community are advertised differently and that there is different information delivered and different levels of encouragement that is shared. “I kind of have been in the same space of what everyone has shared… I have all the paperwork but at times I’ve been asked: ‘What is the impact or the purpose of [the] business’?”
“We are a retailer that exclusively focuses on black and brown brands. We are still in a space where we… have to measure our impact, or prove our impact, when the numbers may not speak to that. And it goes a lot deeper as far as ecosystems that are built, and families we are able to help support. Some of that does not necessarily translate on paper, and so that has been a barrier.”
She went on to share a recent personal experience attempting to obtain a line of credit, where a financial institution’s representative noted she might have a great chance at acquiring credit because there was a “special initiative” but not because of her business model, traction, or what her paperwork reflected. “Because we’re trending, there’s a great opportunity that this might work, but it’s not because of what my figures say, what my paperwork says, the traction that we’ve made—none of that.”
Ms. Hobbs also shared that she has faced challenges with respect to investment opportunities, in addition to issues she’s faced with credit and lending opportunities. “We opened in 2013, and an investor came in early 2014 saw the space and said: “Um would you mind changing the name of your business? And you know the name of my business, Nubian Hueman, connotes what we’re about. So, you know, just not understanding who we are, what we do, and what we represent can become a challenge in receiving funds.”
Ms. Cober then called on SBA Assistant Administrator Therese Meers to share the agency’s perspective on overcoming barriers to financing for BIPOC women entrepreneurs.
Assistant Administrator Meers shared she is a former entrepreneur and manufacturer of a high-protein low-sugar yogurt. Additionally, she most recently served as Senior Counsel to Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland focusing on entrepreneurial development programs at SBA as well as federal contracting. During the pandemic, Ms. Meers was laser-focused on ensuring women and all underserved entrepreneurs were granted access to PPP and other COVID relief funding during her time serving on the Hill.
Her current stated focus is to support the priorities of the Biden Administration and help support SBA Administrator Guzman as well as the Associate Administrator for the Office of Capital Access “to get much needed funding and opportunity to overlooked populations—women and minorities.” She further added: “We’ve been working on… improving tech as well trying to make SBA more user-friendly, trying to make SBA more visible as well. After all the COVID relief that has gone out… I sort of sit in this intersection of… [getting] more dollars and opportunity and education.”
She also shared her personal story as an entrepreneur and her journey to learning about the different avenues to accessing capital as an emerging entrepreneur. “When it comes to access to capital there certainly isn’t one single path, you can piece things together and figure it out. But I do encourage to those listening, if you are thinking about access to capital, don’t overlook your SBA District Offices. They are there to help and to serve and can give you a wealth of information on different types of loan products and traditional lending at SBA as well as equity investment through… SBICs… Women’s Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers, and Veteran Business Centers, [and] SCORE chapters for mentoring.”
Nicole Cober interjected with a follow-up comment and question: “We’re looking for policy issues and SBA products are the fallback product because it is a new venture or the owner’s credit is marginal, and those loan terms… the rates… are more egregious than traditional loans, right? My point is that the interest rates are higher… Why is that?… The government has a lot of ways to not monetize that… [With] the PPP loan process, they eliminated credit barriers and they got that money out… [particularly] that second tranche by going to CDFIs, credit unions… those micro and small business were successful—they were successful because it was an emergency… Equity is [still] an emergency—so, is there a way that the Administration or Congress can look at the successes behind that liquidity… that was going directly to the end users with those small businesses. Why do we have to change that? Why do we have to go back to having these very arduous criteria around SBA lending?”
“Thank you, Nicole. I definitely am hearing you. I had the opportunity to work on the CARES Act and to build up the Paycheck Protection Program [PPP] as well as help to get funding to the SBA resource partners or technical assistance. And, also with the American Rescue Plan for President Biden… worked on creating the Community Navigator Program to help get word out to communities about the relief programs in place, and we’re still certainly looking through and understanding and digesting the lessons learned from PPP… A lot of cleanup as well that we’re working though in the Office of Capital Access—figuring out what worked, what didn’t work, and what can continue as a result of PPP.”
She further responded: “I do hear you though that interest rates can be, and are, often higher mainly because the loans are often high dollar value, higher risk and in exchange there’s opportunity to get longer repayment terms than from traditional banks. But we certainly are working internally at SBA to improve regulation and streamline where we can, to make the process easier, [simpler]… looking at affiliation rules…criminal background rules and potential barriers as to what’s causing hang ups to access to capital.”
Nicola Corzine posed the same question to the funders: “Equity is an emergency, could not have said it better. Our women, our new majority, our BIPOC [women] are the fastest growing segment. What, thinking of the women that are in your networks…the ones you advocate for…what do you want for them to make sure they have access to great equity options for them?”
“As we continue to say minority and BIPOC, etc., it does not actually draw attention to where attention needs to be placed. These populations are historically excluded, so I would challenge everyone to adopt new language to place the emphasis where it needs to be.”
“To answer your actual question, what I would love to see…PPP went out the door really quickly, a lot of corporations established very large grant programs… imagine if that capital was put toward women of color fund managers so that they would have this capital to deploy? I’m sure we would see capital… very creatively being deployed to women like those on this call. So that is what I would like to see, more capital being put in the hands of women of color.”
“For a lot of the funds that are women-led or of diverse background—it’s just that the cost structure doesn’t work… You’re barely stay[ing] afloat. So, how do we aggregate that power so we can all leverage that power so you’re not working with an attorney that charges you… to give you advice?”
She continued, “I’m thinking that we aggregate and share best practices. Also getting this money to these diverse founders is critical. Also, accredited investors, they are putting money into funds… do they even understand the power that they have to invest in these diverse funds?”
“We are working on something to help move 10 thousand women who have the ability to invest into funds that are earmarked for women. It’s a billion dollars—real tangible things are coming… that’s what I’m working on.”
“All of my career… the frustration has been the level of scrutiny that social enterprises have to manage… The level of scrutiny that nonprofits have around policy and governance is comparable to a public company.” She went on to comment that instead of setting up another nonprofit, it is best to leverage the strength of existing organizations. She also emphasized greater trust should be provided to government lines so that entrepreneurs are afforded the flexibility to maintain their business. “Again, these systems are set up to be limiting.”
Nicola thanked everyone for their time and transparency—and asked each participant to provide one key takeaway:
- Jill Johnson: Continue having these kinds of conversations. Act with intention and purpose, but also, we must take action. The investor community has the greatest ability to act and make change, to create a more inclusive entrepreneurial system.
- Anika Hobbs: Need to come up with creative opportunities for women entrepreneurs’ capital stack. We need to begin and build legacy, and it start with us—gaining as much knowledge and entering into as many networking circles as possible. Sharing knowledge and building trust is also important. Access and information are the only way we will be able to build those pathways forward.
- Tameka Montgomery: Go to the stakeholders to those who are really going to be impacted and give them a seat at the table and let them be part of the design process.
- Therese Meers: Encourage use of SBA resources starting with SBA District Offices and other SBA resource partners such as Women Business Centers, Community Navigators, and understand SBA’s equity products.
- Sara Razavi: No one is smarter than you. Assume nothing and when you have a question, simply ask. Ask the question because it doesn’t undermine your lived experience. Make sure when you invite stakeholders to the table make sure they don’t feel undermined in the room—let people ask questions without underestimating them.
- Diedre Windsor: Let your story be heard. If no one knows what you’re going through, then no one can help you. Also, your best source of capital is your client so try to cultivate those relationships because your revenue is capital also. And keep going.
- Jenny Flores: Remember that as a collective we have power. When you use it and reimagine what the financial ecosystem can be, there’s no one who can say that is not what they want to support. Sometimes we just have to create the vision.
- Nicole Cober: Empower yourself, don’t shame yourself. Share your stories. We are usually marginalized when we’re isolated, and usually that marginalization is in our minds. Share, tell, and link up. “You have some much power in your story, but when you bring it together with others—it’s datapoints.” The BOW collective is an attempt to bring together the stories of black women entrepreneurs—the successes and the challenges. “We are going to the banks together… and we are going to report out together… You change the world by changing your narrative.”
Nicole Cober and Nicola Corzine thanked all the roundtable participants and recommitted to continuing these important conversations going. Ms. Cober also thanked the Council Members of the NWBC and Executive Director Dolphin for the opportunity to serve on the Council, ending her service on a high note and focusing on further promoting the BOW Collective.
Executive Director Dolphin also thanked the roundtable participants for their insights and adjourned the meeting. “Your voice is part of this group… and your voice matters. Thank you to all the amazing panelists here today, I wish we had more time.” She wrapped up with some of her personal takeaways:
- The next HR 5050—it’s time for the next.
- Looking at the data [collection] with the implementation of [Section 1071] of Dodd Frank is critical.
- Representation matters!
“This is the beginning—remember we have policy recommendations to make. This is the springboard, so this is not the last conversation so we can get more information and visualize what those solutions are.”