Association Launches Funding Initiative for Black-Owned Businesses

The Association for Enterprise Opportunity’s Tapestry Project is designed to address gaps in financing and other support services.

Research shows that black entrepreneurs have fewer assets and less income than white Americans, gaps that present a host of challenges as they try to launch and sustain businesses. To address the issue, the Association for Enterprise Opportunity is using a $1.15 million grant to identify possible solutions.

The initiative, called the Tapestry Project, follows up on a 2017 AEO research report, “The Tapestry of Black Business Ownership in America,” [PDF] which identified three key challenges for black business owners: less wealth, less access to capital, and a “trust gap,” in which institutional biases prevent owners from building partnerships or otherwise maintaining their businesses.

We want to focus on the resilience, the potential, and strength of black businesses.

AEO President and CEO Connie E. Evans said the Tapestry Project is designed to move beyond identifying the problems and instead look for solutions. “Oftentimes, the conversation is totally focused on what I have always called the ‘woe is me’ black business story,” she said. “We want to focus on the resilience, the potential, and strength of black businesses.”

The Tapestry Project, supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, has two parts. The first is an online resource that’s designed to serve as a registry of projects and opportunities of interest to black business owners. The site will give participants—who are not required to be AEO members—an opportunity to collaborate and share case studies. “There is great value in surfacing these different approaches and programs that others can begin to notice, understand, and support,” Evans said. “We think through that collective activity, it’ll also provide additional hope and confidence to business owners out there.”

The second part of the initiative, called the Tapestry Project Action Lab, will provide up to $50,000 in funding to applicants in at least five cities for projects that help address the gaps identified in the study. To that end, AEO is less focused on supporting individual startups than on “ecosystem approaches” that promote the kind of collaborations that can help startups thrive. (Action Lab applications close August 7; AEO is hosting an informational webinar on the Tapestry Project on August 2.)

“We don’t know what will work yet,” said Evans. “This is an opportunity for us to look at some pilots, perhaps in five to seven different cities, and provide support and guidance in helping those collectives work on an approach that might work to help advance black businesses.”

Because the Tapestry Project is a three-year program with outside funding, AEO isn’t making substantial internal staffing changes, Evans said. But, over the course of the project, it will be closely studying the work of the Action Lab awardees and sharing lessons learned widely as they find them.

“We’ll be looking at things like revenue changes, and we’ll look at things that indicate greater confidence in building networks and partnerships,” Evans said. “We’ll be looking at how they evolve and how they are used to build new markets, drive new revenue, and increase employment.”

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Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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