(Courtesy photo)

For over a decade, The Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce has worked with promising business owners to propel them to the next level in their industry with its Business Evolution Program.

Selected through a competitive process, a business owner is provided mentoring services, business coaching, access to capital and financing, assistance with back office skills (hiring, firing, payroll) and many other necessary business proficiencies.

This year, the Coronavirus pandemic and measures imposed by state and local officials to stop the spread of the virus, have decimated Los Angeles’ small business community, particularly Black owned businesses.

A recent survey by the Stanford institute for Economic Policy Research showed that African American businesses were hit the hardest by COVID-19.  The number of African American business owners in the U.S. plummeted from 1.1 million in February 2020 to 640 million in April, a 41 percent decrease.

Based on these extraordinary circumstances, GLAAACC decided to ramp-up and extend their Business Evolution Program to reach and mentor more black entrepreneurs.  At the July 22 BEP kick-off meeting, 13 business owners embarked on BEP’s 12-month rigorous training program.

At a kick-off meeting on Zoom, GLAAACC Chairman Gene Hale and Angela Gibson-Shaw, president, welcomed the BEP recipients and gave them an overview of the program.  The business owners represented a wide range of business sectors including financial services, construction, transportation, marketing and public relations, market research, event production and education.

During the 90-minute meeting, the 2020 BEP cohorts gave self-introductions, heard from GLAAACC officials, BEP chairperson, BEP board member and a business coach.

Hale, GLAAACC Chairman and CEO of G&C Equipment Corporation, a construction equipment procurement company with a 39-year track record in a highly competitive industry, advised the group to always put customer service first.

“Provide maximum customer service to your clients,” he said.  “If you don’t properly serve them, you won’t hear from them again.  They don’t call and say, ‘I’m not doing business with you anymore.’  They just stop calling.”

Brian Butts, BEP Chairman and Director, Procurement Inclusion and Diversity at American Honda Motor Company congratulated the group for making the cut and being selected to receive training from a renowned program at such an opportune time for Black businesses.

“Through the years, BEP has earned a well-deserved reputation as the premiere Black business boot camp,” said Butts.

An employee of America Honda for the past 28 years, Butts said Honda is one of only 30 companies in the “billon dollar round table,” major American companies that annually spend one billion dollars with minority suppliers.  Under the present social and economic circumstances, he said, more than ever, companies are seeking to be inclusive and have a diverse workforce as well as a diverse pool of business contractors.

“Diversity brings a competitive advantage.  Different ideas coming from different backgrounds makes it easier to reach your objective,” Butts said.

Each month, business owners will attend a training, mentoring and coaching in a different area of business, culminating with graduation presentation at GLAAACC’s 29th Annual Gala in June 2021.

Business consultant Gilbert Buchanan will coach BEP participants throughout the program.  Buchanan assists businesses with strategic planning for increased business capacity and helps small business owners organize their back office systems and be contract ready at all times.

Wells Fargo is the title sponsor for GLAAACC’s 2020 Business Evolution Program.  “Wells Fargo is proud to be the Title Sponsor of the GLAAACC Business Evolution Program.  It further demonstrates our commitment to the African American community,” says Jack Olree, Vice President-Wells Fargo.  Other corporate partners include American Honda, Southern California Edison and Union Bank.