Brandon Ting, CEO and co-founder of Kizuki Ramen and Izakaya laid off 200 people from his chain when lockdown began in March 2020. He was on an exponential growth trajectory when Covid hit. He was unable to get funding in the first round of stimulus but luckily was able to get in on a later round. Through ingenuity and resilience, he survived lockdown, reopening most locations and is now taking advantage of a buyers’ market in acquiring new locations. Not all BIPOC businesses have done as well.

Research done by Gusto shows that there are higher signs of stress from BIPOC business owners. While 51% of all businesses think they will fail within a year without support, a much larger proportion of BIPOC businesses–73% of Black owners and 71% of AAPI owners–feel the same way. This despite the surge in new businesses on track to grow 41% over 2020.with the proportion of Black businesses more than tripling and women businesses almost doubling.

Startups create jobs, foster innovation and make the economy more diverse. This is all the more important for BIPOC businesses which typically hire from and lift economic development in their own communities. There is definitely a new energy in starting BIPOC businesses with many highly-educated BIPOC professionals wanting to use their skills to create a business of their own.

We got a taste of this new vibrancy when we offered Innovation Lab in fall 2020. All of the ten businesses who signed up for the class were of color. Seven of the ten were women. They were eager to learn how they could move their businesses to the next level.

Innovation Lab was conceived as part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem to nurture new businesses. Five cities (Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, Renton and Issaquah) on the Eastside and the Port of Seattle could see that the pandemic was closing down businesses. Stimulus funding could help older, bigger businesses but new businesses really had no support.

Innovation Lab was conceived to assist businesses in getting further along with digital maturity. Covid may be managed but it is clear that it is not going away. BIPOC businesses were less likely to have a functioning website and use the digital tools that are necessary to do business in the new normal.

Having worked with the UW Foster Consulting and Business Development Center, which has been incredibly successful working with underserved businesses, we were able to tap on a proven knowledge base. But entrepreneurs need more than knowledge. They need to be motivated and take action. We incorporated mentors and expert advisors who participated pro bono.

The results with two Black women-owned businesses in the pilot was nothing short of miraculous. Dr. Ebony Blackmon-Humphrey, CEO  Caritas Critical Case Management says, “I was able to build up the confidence to apply for a governmental contract and was awarded it, increasing my revenues by 50%!  I became knowledgeable about funding resources and partners. I applied for an SBA loan and I hired two new front office staff members.”

Anita Robertson, CEO, Make Ready Services was inspired by her peers in the class and she found the determination to work through a complicated bid process. “My revenues increased by 30% since I’ve taken this class and I was just awarded the biggest project that my company has ever seen!”

These success stories are all the more amazing because data shows that 130,000 more businesses closed during the pandemic which compounded an already dismal survival rate—only half of businesses make it to five years. Projections are that the shutdowns will be even higher in 2021.

There are a number of partners in this region who are determined to make this surge in BIPOC entrepreneurship an inflection point and not a blip. Moving BIPOC towards digital maturity is a huge part of survival in the new normal. This training to get more digital (no matter where business is) has been developed and offered at Boost, a one-day workshop on Saturday, September 25.

Boost is chockfull of strategies and tools to help small businesses get their stories online. You will hear from three superstar BIPOC CEOs Brandon Ting, Ana Castro and Lewis Rudd, about their amazing growth, fueled, in large part, by a great digital strategy. Three promising emerging businesses led by BIPOC women will show how they transformed their businesses quickly. Online powerhouses, Google and Facebook, will be presenting. They and other generous sponsors are making this workshop available free of charge to businesses.

Register for Boost Your Business at: https://app.brazenconnect.com/events/xBE1E

For businesses that want the deep dive that Dr. Blackmon-Humphrey and Anita Robertson took, they can join Innovation Lab starting Oct. 9. Innovation Lab is a customized seminar series that helps sustain important survival strategies. It will bring businesses into the ecosystem with experienced business professionals as mentors, expert speakers and high-touch customized training. It will require the businesses commit to transformation and take action to make it happen.

Businesses that successfully complete the series will be given access to Business Impact NW to help secure funding. Innovation Lab is part of the new BIPOC accelerator network that is working to create market opportunities with the upcoming infrastructure funding.

Tuition for 20 businesses is generously funded by Startup 425. Businesses who successfully complete Innovation Lab will be given assistance. Finding access to funding by our partner, Business Impact Northwest.

Innovation Lab Class Series – Customized Seminars for Businesses to Move to the Next Level

The Fall 2021 Innovation Lab will be held on Zoom®.

For More Information: https://youtu.be/-b8-vtvu4n8

October  9  (Saturday): 9am – 1pm
October 14  (Thursday):  5pm – 7pm
October 23  (Saturday): 9am – 1pm
October 28  (Thursday): 5pm – 7pm

Apply Today: https://forms.gle/XBsN3Vhqw5jbCkQ48

We are at a crucial inflection point. In order to ensure that this is a long-term trend and not a blip that will disappear quickly, we need to adopt the strategies of community activism. The community has to rise up to support these emerging BIPOC businesses. Be on the lookout for their stories. Become customers and part of their community. Engage others to do the same. We must sustain this movement.

Leslie Lum and Judith Paquette are Professors at Bellevue College and they will be leading Boost, a one day workshop on how to get more digital (Sept. 25 – Register at: https://app.brazenconnect.com/events/xBE1E) and Innovation Lab, a customized seminar series for businesses to move to the next level (starting Oct. 9 – Apply at https://forms.gle/XBsN3Vhqw5jbCkQ48)

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