Surviving and Thriving as a Small Black Owned Business in a Pre and Post Pandemic World

Episode Number: 207

Episode 207- Surviving and Thriving as a Small Black Owned Business in a Pre & Post Pandemic World

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Surviving and Thriving as a Small Black Owned Business in a Pre and Post Pandemic World

Jamila Souffrant 0:00

You're listening to the Journey to Launch podcast Surviving and Thriving as a Small Black Owned Business in a Pre and Post Pandemic World.

Intro 0:13

Welcome to the Journey to Launch podcast with your host Jamila Souffrant, as a money expert who walks her talk, she helps brave journeyers like you get out of debt, save, invest and build real wealth. Join her on the Journey to Launch to financial freedom.

Jamila Souffrant 0:42

I am so excited for this week's episode. I mean, you know, I love all the episodes and conversations I bring to you. But this one is really special. So if you're brand new, and you were expecting, uh, you know, he saw money podcast you like budgets, like that's not this.

But if you are an existing or OG listener, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised even if you're new stick around a believe you're like this one. Now. While this is not specifically budget or financial independence related, it kinda is because I'm going to be talking to entrepreneurs, business owners, and entrepreneurship intrapreneurship if you're working in a company, being innovative, all are levers to pull, things that you can do to reach your financial goals. And so with this special project that I'm about to share with you, I got a chance to talk to black small business owners. And it was very insightful, what I believe enlightening in hearing their stories about their businesses, how they have managed during the pandemic. So I'm excited to finally be able to share this episode with you because you'll hear me in a way that you never heard me before. You know, I've always dreamed of doing more produced narrative style podcasts, you know, like NPR style with the music. And I got a chance to do that in this project. So earlier this year, I was approached to be a host of an audio project by the creative agency school of thought, which is located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their mission is to make people care with work that cuts through the clutter using humor and empathy. Some of their latest campaigns have worked to raise awareness on sustainability, equity and inclusion, one of school of thought long standing clients, Milliman is a global consulting firm, their employees use math and science to get at the root of some of society's most pressing challenges. This year, Milliman hosted a conference that brought together business leaders to discuss some of the challenges facing black owned small businesses, what are their most pressing issues facing these entrepreneurs? And what can big businesses do to help so as part of that conference, they wanted to present their participants with a podcast episode that highlighted the challenges and experiences of small black owned businesses impacted by the pandemic. Enter me. They needed someone to interview these businesses and experts to talk about the obstacles that they faced pre pandemic, during the pandemic and to discuss solutions that will have real world lasting impact. In total for this project, I interviewed about nine business owners and experts and they were able to get those hours of interviews down to 25 minutes. So this is going to be a 25 minute audio episode that you hear after this introduction school of thought and Milliman graciously agreed to let me use this audio for the podcast. So that's what you're about to hear. And so you're going to hear the finalized audio and it was written, edited and produced by school of thought so more information on school can be found at

Before we get started, I do want to acknowledge the businesses and experts that you'll hear. In the episode, you'll hear from Jeff Linder, founder of the Gentleman's factory, Kenyatta 'Kymme' Williams-Davis, founder of Bushwick Grind, Michelle Holder, assistant professor at City University, Tameeca Rochester owner of Harlem Cycle She was also on the podcast before Ajamu Webster of Dubois consulting Alicia Hines owner of likkle dumpling house, Kenneth Ebie, BE NYC and Karl Williams of 67 orange Street. If you go to, you'll see all the episode show notes for this all the links the business owners are going to link to all of them.

By the way doors so the money launch club will be opening in a couple of days. It depends on when you listen to this episode, but doors will be open on April 2. So if you are looking for community support, resources, tools to help you with your big and small goals while you are traveling towards financial independence, the money launch club is for you. If you enjoy the podcast, you will love the money launch club, go to and join us be open dates are going to be April 2, you're gonna want to join us as soon as possible, get some cool bonuses, and then doors will close on April 8. So I hope to see you inside. And without further ado, let's get in to this episode.

Intro 5:24

There's this lower starting point lower access to capital that black and brown business owners are having when their businesses are starting, we look at net worth of the average black family versus white 10 times. So the average black family has a net worth of 17,000 versus 170,000 for that of the white family. And so we're financing these ventures within the all that we have. And when they go under, you know, you not have to rebuild the nest egg that you really didn't have in the first place. I was on a call earlier today with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce president. And they was given a statistic around something like 60 to 80% of small black owned businesses in the nation have shuttered and if that statistic is true than who's left.That's really sad.

Jamila Souffrant 6:14

It's 2021. A year ago, the covid 19 pandemic began. The voices as you just heard belong to small business owners stretched across New York City, a city hit particularly hard during the pandemic. Not only are these small businesses, but specifically black owned businesses. The challenges are many from pandemic devastating a community that's underserved in health care to an economy dropping off the cliff, to social justice protests occurring sometimes right out front. This has been an impossible time for these businesses, especially when they lack the capital the network or the resources to weather the crisis. Are there things we can do to support these businesses and address the systemic barriers that have made life more difficult as a black entrepreneur? That's the discussion we wanted to have. And it's long overdue. I'm Jamila Souffrant, and I host a podcast on personal finance called journey to launch. Today I'm talking to small black owned businesses from Milimans verge impact conference about what they need to survive during a pandemic. and beyond.

Michelle Holder 7:20

I think the one thing that came out of this was a real recognition that black owned businesses suffered the most.

Jamila Souffrant 7:31

Michelle Holder is an assistant professor of economics at City University of New York. There aren't a ton of black woman economists out there, but we'll save that for another podcast. Today, she's giving us some background to frame the story.

Michelle Holder 7:46

The first thing to understand about black owned businesses is they tend to be quite small. In fact, the majority of black owned businesses are sole proprietorships with no other employees. And so these are very small, and by extension, often quite vulnerable businesses. The other thing is black owned businesses in the US tend to specialize in a few areas. But those areas are almost all in the what's called the service sector. It made these businesses quite vulnerable during the cyclical downturn that resulted from this health crisis of COVID.

Jamila Souffrant 8:30

So a lot of black owned businesses provide services like dining, personal care and health services to name a few. And that's important to note. But let's start at the beginning. If you're a small business, odds are, you didn't roll out of business, school and land seed funding.

Tammeca Rochester 8:49

I come from a background 13 years in corporate America I started as an engineer and then worked in some marketing for a fortune 500 company. I had six figure salary, hundreds of 1000s of dollars in savings, a very stealthy 401k and I could not get a loan to start my business. So I have to start Harlem Cycle with my personal savings. Because with all the stellar and everything that I have on paper, I still could not get a loan e to start the business.

Jamila Souffrant 9:13

Tammeca Rochester owns Harlem cycle, a gym and one of the first businesses to be completely closed down during the pandemic. She's had to completely rethink the way she runs her business keeping it afloat with online classes since last March.

Tammeca Rochester 9:29

We don't have those relationships with the banks. So you couldn't get the loan from the bank. The bank wasn't calling you to give you a PPP, and they definitely weren't pulling your application to the front to get a PPP because you never had a relationship with them. So I have my business account at a major bank and still they weren't calling me they weren't checking for me. They weren't they weren't pulling my application for it. We never had that leg in the door. There wasn't anyone making an introduction on our behalf to a banker, you know that information just doesn't pass along in our community.

Jamila Souffrant 9:59

So just struggling to get the loan is the first challenge. But then you have to be able to understand all the information that's flying around out there. And it can be a lot for one person doing the job of three people working 60 hours a week, Kymme Williams runs a cafe in Brooklyn called Bushwick Grind. Like many restaurants, her business was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, shutting down, opening up and then going back into lockdown, creating pop ups inside the store help pay the bills, but she saw firsthand how confusing the loan process can be, and how having the right information can make or break a small black owned business.

Kymme Williams 10:35

When the PPP was first announced, I read it as trouble. Like if I take out this loan that says I have to use 80% of this money on employees when my employees are not coming back because they make more money being out on unemployment, I can't get them to come back. People with small home based businesses what reach out to me and like Kymme, like what's going on? Can you help interpret this? Or do you have any advice you I can't qualify for PPP or idle because I'm a small home based business, and I'm not eligible for those loans. It is so much information and you see it now with round two of PPP and all this stuff coming out is so much infomation that you as a small business owner, like some of us, we don't have legal backgrounds and financial backgrounds, we just hustling against our passion, you know, I don't want to be ungrateful in any way. It's amazing that these resources are becoming available. But you know, as a small business owner, understanding what can help you what can hurt you. And when you have to make the critical decision on do you take this loan? Do you pay this rent? Do you you know, how do you pivot to have some legal and sound financial advice outside of your regular CPA that would have been really good resources to have.

Jamila Souffrant 11:54

So access to information can definitely help your success. But it's only a small piece of the puzzle. There's the very real issue of capital, the money. Here's Michelle with some more background.

Michelle Holder 12:07

There's a long history in this country of African American exclusion from capital and credit markets. And although we have certainly made progress in that area, in terms of opening up these markets to African Americans, there's still a long way to go. And there is still discrimination in capital and credit markets. In fact, because black owned businesses really face barriers in terms of access to capital, both external right, as well as internal. There are plenty of small businesses that start up that rely on, you know, someone's personal savings or someone's personal resources. And so this reflects the constraints they face. But then this feeds into the kinds of businesses that black business owners will pursue. They won't pursue starting up firms that require a lot of resources. They're really looking to start businesses that you know, can be done in some instances on a wig and and prayer and tape and glue.

Jamila Souffrant 13:17

Ajamu Webster has been working as an engineer for over 20 years and now runs his own business Dubois consultant. He knows getting financial support is easier said than done. Even when you have the track record to back it up. He's experienced discrimination firsthand, right from his own bank,

Ajamu Webster 13:35

Had a loan to come up to head to be redone. Because it had to be renewed. And it took forever. And one thing happened is the guy who was my loan officer came to see me and he said, I finally got your deal done. And I'm telling you two things. I got your deal done. And this is my last day working at the bank. And he said I had meetings with these guys were the set on their desk, and they told me no go back and get higher interest rates. He said, You guys already said no, I'll just go back and get more we need more, we need more. And he he says I couldn't stand anymore. So he says I quit. So unfortunately, that's the reality that we're dealing with. And I get it. But then at the same time, don't be afraid to say we need to put something affirmative in place to correct that. Because if you like things where they are right now, and then you tell everyone Okay, now the playing field is level. And if I'm already three laps behind, I'm not going to win the race. You just locking in all of the structural inequities, you're locking them in place. So we have to be intentional and aggressive and affirmative, that we want to make serious change.

Jamila Souffrant 14:49

When we returned to Tammeca to see what happened, did she get the PPP? Well, yes, just not through her bank through a smaller institution that recognize that her business was unique. Nearly all of our employees are contractors.

Tammeca Rochester 15:04

And I think what was more interesting was how people just do not know about the different kinds of businesses like there seems to be one standard template that we're supposed to fill in. So this one size fits all strategy towards businesses. It's just not working. And it was very surprising to me that this was what was applied during a time like this, particularly when there's so many different makeups of businesses, there's just so many different ways that you can even incorporate and structure your business. And all of that isn't taken in consideration when it comes towards funding.

Jamila Souffrant 15:35

Which also brought up a good point, the resources provided and the systems in place don't always take into account the nuances of being a small business, especially a small black owned business.

Jeff Lindor 15:49

I was speaking with a friend, and he was initially declined PPP because of a low credit score, he said, Hey, like, if I'm an entrepreneur, and I put my whole life savings into this, I invested everything into this. And, you know, unfortunately, my credit suffered because I had to pay guess just the bare essentials of living. So I did miss some, you know, credit card payments, etc, because I had to max all of them out, right, you know, and now I can't get a government loan with I think a one to 3% interest rate, 30 years, paid through time, the amazing loan, and I can't get this because of a credit score.

Jamila Souffrant 16:40

Jeff Lindor started his business, the gentleman's factory to be a workspace and an incubator for black men. By building a strong community of black entrepreneurs who can share resources, his members are in a better position to start focusing on raising capital.

Jeff Lindor 16:56

When you look at the wealth gap in this country, going back 400 plus years, there's always been this imbalance. And what wealth does is it provides opportunity for error, then you can come back and erase that error or learn from it, right. So with black owned businesses, our mistakes is written in pen, where other communities, oftentimes their mistakes or their learned experiences is in pencil so they can erase it and come back, right. So with COVID, it really exposes the fact that we have a really slim margin for error.

Jamila Souffrant 17:39

And it's already hard to keep up when you're small business. Alicia Hines owns local Jamaican dumpling house, a restaurant in Clinton Hill, which I'd love to try when this is all over. They gotten by but she admits she's going to have to sell a whole lot of dumplings to pay for rent. She wants to see more collaboration, the government working with other entities, especially in a downturn to level the playing field.

Alicia Hines 18:02

If restaurants are relying solely on cash flow, you can do a enough business to pay your employees and get enough inventory and serve the community again, if that's what you're really into it for. But for everything else, to keep the lights on to keep the heat going. And to clean the grease trap every three months, that stuff is a lot. And it requires more than just the business owners input it requires the landlord and the building owner, it requires the government and the buildings department. And so if all of these entities are working together in that regard that feels like they should also be able to work together to come up with some sort of solution.

Jamila Souffrant 18:45

And that solution may need to be multi layered. That's what one government initiative recently decided. Kenneth Ebie works for black entrepreneurship, NYC er B NYC, its goal is to provide equitable access to financing by calling on corporations and philanthropic organizations, anyone with capital to come together to work on solutions.

Kenneth Ebie 19:08

Fundamental to all of this if this pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we're all connected. And I think that we all feel lighter. We all feel richer when those who are in positions that need to have resources, have those resources, and so BE NYC is here to help. We are here to provide resources information, to the extent that we can develop these partnerships, public private partnerships, connecting with private sector partners, connecting with partners in philanthropy to get more resources. And I think that speaks to the issue of collaboration. And and we are really focused on the reality that that city government can't do it alone. We have to lock arms with the private sector. We have to identify strategic partnerships. We have to go out and seek resources and support from all corners of this great city. This is in fact in the best interest of all of us to make sure that the black community, which has been subject to some tremendous systematic challenges, is able to survive and to thrive by the removal of those barriers of those systemic challenges.

Jamila Souffrant 20:18

And what do business owners think about getting other companies more engaged, we revisit Tammeca.

Tammeca Rochester 20:24

So one of the things I realized as a small black owned businesses, I don't have the same access to people that other companies have, like a CEO calls another CEO and says, Hey, have you heard about this, let me introduce you, and then the conversation starts. But as a small black owned business, we don't have those people in the rooms at the C suite that can make the conversation. And so what you need is someone to kind of open the door, they don't necessarily have to give us a seat at the table, we'll bring our own table, we just want to be in the room. And that's what that's happening. Now. We're not even in the room.

Jamila Souffrant 20:57

Ajamu, pulling the private sector into the conversation is fundamental to the cause.

Ajamu Webster 21:03

You're talking about how you can really give small businesses a shot in the arm, it happens with the access to opportunities, and large corporations purchase a lot of services all day long. It's bringing the small businesses into that supply chain to allow them to be able to negotiate providing those services. The other side is the access to capital. If I have opportunities then I need financial resources to make it happen, right, if I have a partner, who is saying the block consultants is providing us this service, they have a contract with us provide these services, we will support them throughout this process. That makes a big difference to a lender. Huge difference to a lender.

Jamila Souffrant 21:53

Sounds like a win win. But we're back at that initial barrier capital.

Karl Williams 22:00

At the end of the day, you can write the best plan at the best strategy structure, and the like. But if the funds aren't there, you're not going to survive. It's well understood in tech and venture and other areas, life size, everything else where the returns can be so huge, how important it is to keep these companies funded, how much better the founders work when they're not stressed out and worried about money.

Jamila Souffrant 22:23

Up in Harlem, Karl Williams run 67 orange Street, one of the oldest black owned bars in New York City. He's an ex corporate guy who knows a thing or two about marketing. He says capital is really the missing piece because it gives you something else Time, time to plan and time to experiment.

Karl Williams 22:42

There's no big VC that will put money into a company and ask the owner not to take a salary, they don't want you to be in that position. They want you to be able to make money so that you're not stressed that your mind is clear, you can do the best job possible. And if we want to see the type of creativity and growth and development that we want, that should be happening in these black communities, that can't happen, because the intellect skills and abilities are there, then we have to make sure the funds are there as well.

Jamila Souffrant 23:09

Ken says it best.

Kenneth Ebie 23:11

And if you look at successful entrepreneurs, or some of the largest corporations or founders of some of the most successful startups, they've tried, and they failed, and they've tried, and they failed, and they've gotten money to try and fail, and they've hit something on one of those attempts that has that has been golden. If you are allowed to try something and fail something, you have that passion that drive, you can iterate an idea, you can kind of fine tune and get that idea to market, you can be successful, and you can change the world. And so we've need to basically create that on ramp, we need to eradicate some of the systemic barriers to what I believe is a mindset, you know, we have to make it more possible.

Jamila Souffrant 23:55

So we're at this decisive moment, again, in history. What's really at stake here? If we're rapidly closing small black businesses and communities all across the country? What does that mean for us as a society? And how will that ripple across our economy? Professor holder has the answer.

Michelle Holder 24:14

So let's think about it in terms of what does it mean for the US economy to have a strong and thriving black owned business sector? It means jobs, it means spending, right? The employees of those companies are spending money, they're buying things. It means paying taxes, right to the federal government to state and local governments. So the things that those workers buy supported jobs for someone else in the economy. It's so cost effective to support and encourage black owned businesses because it has a direct and tangible impact, not just on the US economy, but on the African American community which as we know, during this COVID crisis has been hit coming and going, coming in terms of the higher mortality rates and going in terms of job losses.

Jamila Souffrant 25:14

Adjusting in bounces for black businesses leaves a mark on more than just their storefronts. Because small businesses are so closely connected with the communities they serve. A little bit can go a long way, says Ajamu.

Ajamu Webster 25:28

First of all were employers. That means that if I have a $400,000 contract, I have to hire people. And I'm glad to hire people. Now you take a large corporation, give them a $400,000 contract, they won't even notice it. Because of our proximity, we wind up hiring people in the community. And there's a multiplier effect when that happens. And here's the thing, if you're a governmental agency, and if you're large business, it's so easy. I mean, so easy to do, you would think what you're doing won't have a big impact, but it will, it doesn't cost you anything have a major impact. That to me, is kind of the missing gem in all of this. Most corporations like this is too much large copper is too much effort is to add on, you know, it's not about that, which is smal to you can have a major impact for us. And then we will turn around and have a substantial impact on the community.

Jamila Souffrant 26:26

And Tammeca says if a business is giving back in important ways, shouldn't that count for something? How can we be more intentional?

Tammeca Rochester 26:34

looking at those hardest hit and creating special funds, just for those to make sure that they're here when this is over? Also, I will take a look at actual businesses that actually are here for the community and help the community. So in a minority owned community, do we need another liquor store? Probably not. Do we need another Fitness Studio probably So like, let's take a look at those things that are actually uplifting the community and let's put let's pour some funds behind that and make it easier for people to actually open up those kinds of businesses.

Jamila Souffrant 27:06

Karl and Kymme have similar thoughts. Sustainability means being able to witness positive change throughout the community change that will outlast this pandemic.

Karl Williams 27:17

The key is access to capital and it will become a problem again soon. Not only that, you're going to have a tremendous amount of small business owners have gone out of business that just couldn't do it. Mmm. So now you've got boarded up storefronts and neighborhoods. And when small businesses do go out of business, the impact is lasting and detrimental to the community. And so those communities don't bounce back. Once those places have boarded up, they stay boarded up for a lot longer than they do in other communities.

Kymme Williams 27:47

It is very important that the natives of our areas see the optics, they need to see us operating our stores, they need to see us growing, they need to see us employing black and brown people, they need to see us cleaning up our streets, they need to see us operating in excellence like if you're a small business owner, your workday is as long as your eyes are able to stay open. We are hustling black, brown, white, black, whoever you are, you know, and we are not subscribing to the school of give me free. But there should be some equity. Right, there should be some fairness and it should be some weight given to a whole class of people who are historically disadvantaged.

Jamila Souffrant 28:33

And that will ultimately have a lateral trickle effect across every barrier Ken remind us.

Kenneth Ebie 28:40

So what we need to do is we need to understand not just how the dots are connected, but how we can connect more dots so that we can provide resources where there may not be resources. I think that the well being of the black community is really fundamental to the well being of New York City where we don't have black businesses thriving, we do not have black wealth being generated, we do not have black people employed at the rate that they should be. We do not have thriving bustling communities that can support themselves and support one another. And without that we're in a spiral of support from government and other sources. And we are in a spiral of I would say there's a lack of the ability to dream and to determine one's destiny. And I think that we all feel that we all feel lighter. We all feel richer when those who are in positions that need to have a resources have those resources.

Jamila Souffrant 29:44

This is Jamila Souffrant. And we've been exploring the challenges that face black owned businesses every day for Milliman verge impact. Thank you for listening

I really hope you enjoyed that as much as I did, not just enjoyed, but it enlightened and educated you on the experiences of small black owned businesses. Maybe you yourself are a small black owned business and you can relate to these experiences. Maybe you are also just a small business, and you've been affected by this pandemic. And so I am just proud of this piece of work. Once again, I thank School of Thought and Milliman for allowing me to be a part of the project. If you want to hear more, or to get some of the background for the experts and businesses that were included in this piece, you can go to bi z. That's where you'll find the show notes for this episode. Also, go to if you want to find out more about their work

And I just could not let this episode and without telling you the news in case you did not see it or hear about it. I am doing a private podcast pop up series that you should definitely want to check out it is called the "Building blocks of financial success. Get out of debt, save, invest and achieve your money dreams." You can sign up to this secret podcast series by going to, it's completely free. It's a series of short episodes to help you uncover the building blocks to your success. So we're going to go through all the things you can get it at dreams. It even comes with a free workbook. And also depending on when you're listening to this, the doors to the money launch club are going to be open. They're going to be open from April 2 to April 8. That's my membership community where if you are loving the podcast if you need community support tools, resources, the money club where it's at. So you can join us between April 2 and April 8 by going to

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I am honored to bring you this week’s special episode featuring powerful stories of small Black business owners.  Earlier this year, School of Thought, a creative agency, and one of it’s long-standing clients, Milliman, hosted a conference that brought together business leaders to discuss the obstacles Black entrepreneurs faced in the pandemic. They wanted to present their conference attendees with a short but impactful mini-podcast episode that captured what it’s like to be a Black entrepreneur in one of the most challenging economic environments we’ve ever seen. 

I was asked to interview over 9 dynamic entrepreneurs and experts for this project in what amounted to over 540 minutes of audio. The final result is a powerful 25 minute podcast that beautifully captures the real issues facing Black small businesses. 

In the episode, you’ll hear the entrepreneurs & experts share their experiences and the solutions that need to be implemented, so that Black small businesses can survive and thrive in a post-pandemic world. 

The episode was; written, edited and produced by School of Thought. Find more of their work at

The episode featured the following businesses/experts:

Episode 207- Surviving and Thriving as a Small Black Owned Business in a Pre & Post Pandemic World Click To Tweet

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