Oftentimes the difference between a successful business and one that fails is access to money. From overhead to inventory, running a profitable business regularly requires additional backing to cover unforeseen and even projected expenses. Many small businesses, particularly those founded by Black and Brown people, are often unaware of the expansive resources, including grants, loans, angel investors and venture capitalists, available within the community that are ripe for the picking.
Enter La Create Space (stylized as La Create Sp_ce), founded by husband and wife team, Terell and Marisa Johnson, and their “Small Business Crawl” presented by Wells Fargo and hosted by Crowns & Hops founders, Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter. Through a series of panels from May 16 to May 19, entrepreneurs were given unprecedented access to business resources to help create a scalable and profitable business.
Day 1: “Start, Grow & Pitch Your Small Business” was hosted at 1010 Wine And Events owned by sisters Leslie and LeAnn Jones. The panel featured Terry Gubatan from Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation (VSEDC) and Miki Reynolds from Grid 110.
Day 2: “Product Growth & Customer Engagement” was held at Sip and Sonder featuring co-owners Amanda-Jane Thomas and Shanita Nicholas.
Day 3: “Access to Capitol–The Unconventional Way” was hosted at The Hilltop, widely known for one of its equity partner’s + co-owners being actress and producer Issa Rae. This day featured a panel with the cafe’s co-owner + venture capitalist, Ajay Relañ and his Slauson & Co. venture capital partner, Austin Clements. Colette Moore from Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Corp (PCR) and Emma Kloppenburg from LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) also served as panelists.
The week culminated at La Create Sp_ce featuring keynote speaker, serial entrepreneur and activist, Karim Webb, as well as a pitch competition where Javonne Sanders, founder of the salad company, Toss It Up, was awarded $2,000 cash and advertising credits from Meta.
Throughout the week, bankers from Wells Fargo were on hand to introduce themselves to attendees with the goal of helping to change the perception many people have when it comes to banking and applying for loans.
In regards to one of the common misconceptions that Black and Brown people have when it comes to money, Mario Holten, vice president of Social Impact and Sustainability at Wells Fargo, shared, “We don’t apply, we don’t ask, we don’t go in confident, we don’t tell people we have a business that needs funding because we assume that we’re not going to get it. The [Small Business Crawl] space took the edge off in regards to talking about finances.”
The former branch manager added, “Oftentimes, when people come into a bank they feel intimidated as opposed to saying, ‘I’ve worked hard and I’m going to go in and be positive and even if I don’t get approved, maybe I’ll leave here with some resources.’ When we go in with a negative mindset and count ourselves out, that prevents us from making the necessary strides that we could make. There are a lot of programs and opportunities out there if you talk about your business.”
Speaking of programs, a major gem gleaned from the “Small Business Crawl” is that there are a plethora of CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institutions Funds) – including Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corp, Grid 110, PCR and LISC – that provide business coaching as well as accelerator programs, which culminate in the opportunity to apply for grants as well as loans with more flexible terms for repayment.
It would behoove most small business owners to go through these types of programs where they’ll learn how to create financial projections including profit and loss statements and business plans that can result in securing the funding they need on a micro scale prior to approaching a bank.
Another integral aspect of a successful business is its presentation and your ability to not only sell your business via an elevator pitch, but also through a visually appealing marketing deck. Thomas and Nicholas of Sip & Sonder, who are both lawyers by trade, walked attendees through their pitch deck and what they learned over their year-long process to launch their coffee brand on Target.com.
Ashburn and Hunter, the founders of Crowns & Hops, the first Black woman, Black veteran owned Craft Beer Brand & Brewery, which was able to raise over $1 million dollars in crowdfunding, also presented their pitch deck, which did a phenomenal job in expounding upon who they are as individuals as well as their brand story. For newer brands that may not have garnered press attention or financial projections, they advised attendees to use the easiest resource at their disposal, social media.
“Make sure you have a business account on Instagram and include those analytics in your pitch deck,” said Hunter. A month-over-month increase in followers, reach and engagement on social media are important stats to include when pitching your business.
Once you’ve checked off the more laborious and formal aspects of securing funding, it’s also imperative to remember that relationship building through networking events like the Small Business Crawl is a necessary component to growing a successful business. Regardless of what type of financial program you’re applying to, there’s a real person on the other side of the application who’s often making decisions based on whether or not they can connect to a compelling story.
“It’s really important for you to build those interpersonal connections. For people to find out who you are beyond what kind of business you have because they can use that information to plug you with other people who are doing the same thing, who you may be able to collab with,” said Holten.
“And beyond the numbers, they may be able to help you find ways to grow your business or put it together,” he added.
If you missed the Small Business Crawl, a replay of the panels will be made available to La Create Sp_ce’s virtual community. Visit lacreatespace.com and @LaCreateSpace on Instagram to learn more.