Peak Performance

“You need money to make money.” That maxim rings true particularly for entrepreneurs. But with the median net worth of African Americans at roughly $5,000–less than 5% of that of whites–it’s also a maxim that can cripple black-owned businesses. According to the Kauffman Foundation, low personal wealth adversely affects startup financing, because it limits the funds that can be directly invested in a business, and it deprives entrepreneurs of adequate collateral when they apply for loans.

Saudia Davis, CEO of New York-based Greenhouse Eco-Cleaning L.L.C., knows this firsthand. In the early days of her business, she was often turned away from banks because she lacked the required collateral. A former film studio public relations executive, Davis started her commercial and residential cleaning company in 2006 after her grandmother, who worked for many years as a cleaner at medical facilities, died of cancer. The disease may have developed as a result of her grandmother’s prolonged exposure to harsh chemicals. To give her business a lift, Davis applied and was accepted into the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, designed to drive economic growth and create jobs by offering entrepreneurs business management and education, capital, and support services.

Business owners who have been in operation for at least two years and generated revenues of between $150,000 and $4 million can apply. When 33-year-old Davis was accepted into the 2010 program, she sought business support services, mentoring, and networking opportunities; it wasn’t initially clear to her that she needed money to develop her business. However, the program helped her see that she needed more money for operations, particularly staffing. Davis managed to secure more than $70,000 in capital through Seedco Financial, a New York-based community development financial institution through which Goldman Sachs disburses loans for the program.

“We were able to put together a growth plan and identify issues we were having in terms of staff turnover,” a problem Davis says is typical in the cleaning industry. This growth plan focused specifically on how to scale the company by increasing revenue and client retention. To accomplish this, she used the money to create a human resources department, which she says helps with hiring and retaining quality personnel, thus reducing turnover. Today, her business employs 21 people, nearly double what she had before entering the program. And she projects generating revenues of about $600,000 for 2012; the business brought in $375,000 in 2011.

Like Davis, Garnett Newcombe, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Carson, California-based Human Potential Consultants L.L.C. reached a plateau in her business, which is focused on workforce development and job creation. So in 2006, she entered and won an elevator pitch competition through Count Me In’s Make Mine a Million $ Business program sponsored by, among others, American Express Open and Dell. As a winner, Newcombe went on to participate in the organization’s business accelerator program that offers women entrepreneurs professional coaching and business education.

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