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According to the Small Business Administration, 95% of the 2.6 million African American-owned business have no employees. And although African American solopreneurs and businesses with less than ten employees are more likely to face barriers such as access to capital and difficulty scaling their business, they make up one of the fastest growing business sectors in the country.

The Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce’s (GLAAACC) Business Evolution Program (BEP) was developed to increase business revenues, enable businesses to expand, create job opportunities and assist African American small businesses to become a part of the monetary engine that keeps the economy moving in the right direction.

“Black business owners don’t need a handout, but they do need a hand up, when it comes to navigating the ins and outs of operating a profitable business, particularly during – what we hope will be – the post COVID period,” said Gene Hale, GLAAACC Chairman. “The program is designed for us, by us.”

BEP originally started in 2005 by GLAAACC’s Business & Economic Development Committee as a means to grow the pipeline for the next generation of African American entrepreneurs.  For 15 years, GLAAACC’s BEP Committee selected one promising business owner to mentor for a year.  When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in March 2020, GLAAACC made the decision to expand the mentorship program from one to 13 small business owners.

“With everyone sheltering in place, we knew it was going to be a really tough year for small businesses which make up the majority of our membership” said Jamarah Hayner, GLAAACC’s Vice Chairman.  “We had to do our part to support African American small businesses owners and keep them motivated.”

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BEP is a rigorous nine month curriculum which includes modules on contracting, procurement, supplier diversity, lending and professional business services, technical assistance, technology and access to capital.   Each month a subject matter expert will introduce BEP mentees to a different aspect of entrepreneurship.  Participants also come away with an understanding of the importance of leadership in operating a business, developing a capability statement, having access to capital and learning how to build a robust back-office structure.  A business coach will be available throughout the course at all times to mentor, provide support and ensure understanding of the information.

Additional benefits for the 2021 BEP cohorts include a $5,000 group pitch competition, complimentary publicity and marketing, a discounted website upgrade and much more.

Applications for the BEP class of 2021 are currently being accepted.   Classes begin August 11.

The first 13-member BEP cohort graduation ceremony took place virtually on June 23.   During the hour-long ceremony, BEP cohorts gave testimonials on how the programs had helped their business grow during the pandemic.

“The value of what I’ve learned, the workshops and the networking that transpired during the pandemic has been invaluable and would not have happened at this level if it weren’t for BEP,” said BEP cohort member Kelly Redmond of Impact Enterprises Global, Inc., a newly incorporated business that provides custom diversity, equity and inclusion strategies. “I received client referrals and exceptional media exposure that further qualified my Impact brand and they are now evolving into viable business opportunities.

BEP participant Derrick Noble, CEO of the Derrick Noble Group, LLC., offers training in leadership, speech communication and customer service.  “Since becoming a part of BEP, my business has grown exponentially and that is not an exaggeration.  While a lot of businesses were struggling, during the pandemic and the lockdown, I was actually able to do more business,” said Noble.  “I was listed in Los Angeles Business Journal and as a result, was able to land three major training contracts.  I directly attribute that to my participation in BEP.”

BEP is free to participants and is underwritten by Wells Fargo and other sponsors. At the beginning of the graduation ceremony, Jack Olree, Senior Vice President Community Relations Director, emphasized Wells Fargo’s commitment to minority businesses.

“At Wells Fargo, we take supporting small businesses very seriously.  We have developed numerous resources, in addition to our diverse community capital program, in addition to donating our gross processing fees from the Paycheck Protection Plan – over half a billion dollars going to small business-focused nonprofits around the country for recovery efforts including lending, technical assistance to those businesses hardest hit by COVID -19.”

Duvon Davis, Senior Vice President, Commercial Banking Group at Wells Fargo and Kendall Simmonds, Senior Vice President, Relationship Management also attended the virtual ceremony and congratulated the first BEP cohort graduates.  Other sponsors include T-Mobile, Southern California Edison, Union Bank and American Honda.

For more details on BEP and to apply for the 2021 cohort, visit https://www.glaaacc.org/programs/business-evolution-program/.