Supporting Urban Entrepreneurs

National partnership mobilizes resources to encourage minority business ownership

When Marc H. Morial began his term as president and CEO of the National Urban League in May 2003, he laid out an ambitious empowerment agenda that included spurring economic development. That plan has since come to fruition through the Urban Entrepreneur Partnership, a new national program to encourage minority entrepreneurship and business development.

The NUL and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation are spearheading the partnership in a collaborative effort to mobilize the resources of business, government, and philanthropic and community organizations to initiate and support minority business ownership in urban areas.

The partnership’s pilot program is expected to spur black-owned businesses in Cleveland; Cincinnati; Jacksonville, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; and Atlanta by teaming the resources of the NUL, the Kauffman Foundation, Stonehenge Capital Co., the Business Roundtable, and the Financial Services Roundtable. Business centers operated by NUL affiliates in the five cities will open in early 2005 to give entrepreneurs intensive coaching — and access to capital.

“There are a lot of businesses out there in the African American community that are just a few steps away from significant growth. That is why it’s important that this effort has the support of the Business Roundtable and the Financial Services Roundtable,” says Morial, who also serves as chairman of the Urban Entrepreneur Partnership

The initial pilot program targets existing businesses but will later be expected to include startups. Candidates must express a desire to move to the next level, plus be willing to go through a rigorous training program, work with an intrusive business coach, and open up their business for scrutiny. “Coaching is a hands-on relationship between the entrepreneur and an individual coach who holds them accountable for reaching goals,” says Daryl Williams, director of minority entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation.

Business owners who are interested in participating in the program should contact Marvin Owens, NUL vice president of Economic Development and Housing, at 212-558-5300.

The partnership idea shaped up when Morial visited the opening of the Cleveland NUL’s Multicultural Business Development Center. Morial noticed that Myron Robinson, president of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland, was spurring city entrepreneurs to capture some of the $2.6 billion of black spending power being transported to the suburbs. “We knew that we could not continue to do business as usual, that we had to be about the business of creating jobs,” says Robinson.

By participating in Cleveland’s Urban Entrepreneur Partnership program, Ross-Tek President and CIO Fredrick Johnson hopes to bring more information technology to minority businesses. Ross-Tek is a Microsoft Certified Partner providing IT solutions for Cleveland-area small businesses. Johnson is affiliated with the program as a mentor, but might seek financing through NUL’s partnership program fund. Ross-Tek, which started in 1997, has seven employees and generated revenues of nearly $1 million in 2004.

Relationships are what Johnson primarily hopes to gain through the partnership program. “To be associated with the Urban League and its partner organizations lends a high level of credibility,” says Johnson.

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