By Johanna Ferreira
Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. opening more businesses in 2019 than any other demographic, but they are historically and significantly overlooked and underfunded when it comes to capital. Two women are aiming to change that.
Consider the statistics: Black consumers spend around $1.2 trillion a year in the U.S. market — their buying power is not just significant but imperative to the American economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2019, Black women supplied $3.8 billion in labor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United States and opened more businesses in 2019 than any other demographic. And yet, Black women only receive 0.2% of venture capital funding or turned down for business loans.
Now, consider this: Whitney Brown, founder of Meet The Owner and Lauren Napier, celebrity makeup artist and founder and CEO of Lauren Napier Beauty, have created Consider Something Better, an organization that fights for economic equality and access for Black women-led businesses who are historically underfunded.
The initiative launched on June 8, 2020 and began with the goal to raise $5 million from major corporations in funding for Black entrepreneurs, but it has since expanded. “We saw all these corporations and conglomerates come forth and make major donations and so we decided to challenge these corporations to put their money where their mouths are,” Brown tells thirteen lune. “In talking with these Fortune 500 companies, we’ve learned that they do want to do more. They want to support the community from a foundational level. So we’ve been working with them on DI strategies and on programming long-term to figure out what that looks like, not just this year but in the next 5,10 years, and beyond.”
Unlike their white counterparts, Black women aren’t financially set up for small business success. Many of them don’t come from generational wealth and the systemic racism that exists in this country makes it hard for them to receive the funding needed to launch or sustain a business. Napier experienced this first hand when launching her beauty brand. Regardless of an established career in the beauty industry and a pristine credit score, Napier was declined for a business loan. Taking matters into her own hands, she launched her business with a tax refund and a credit card.
“Even as a makeup artist with a career and decent income, I was not able to get traditional funding. Nor did I have access to the lending community,” Napier says. “And a lot of what we find is that there is success because of proximity to the financial industry. There’s also a trust factor that exists for our community. Whatever systematic prejudices that exist — this is why Black women do not get funded. That really is just the bottom line. I have had a vested interest in the beauty industry and at the time that I was trying to get that loan, I had been working in the beauty industry for over a decade. I had insight on white spaces and I also had a history of being asked to partner with, develop and create products for existing brands. My level of expertise was there. But again, it’s having the access, the knowledge, and the awareness of where that funding is coming from.”
“Our mission and our initiative is Black women first. It’s making sure that at every turn, in every consideration, in everything we do — Black women will be considered, benefited, and elevated with every partnership that we take on and at every level.”
“If we start with the fact that Black women are making 63 cents on the dollar — then she’s already starting with a disparity. So anything that’s she saving to launch, to grow, and to scale her business is already not enough,” Napier says. “It irks the shit out of me anytime someone asks me, “have you done a friends and family round?” When Black people make ten cents for every dollar. How can we raise a friends and family round when we’re trying to raise families? We can’t do that. There is such a cleavage, a gap, a void, a gulf in the level of understanding, that there is not actually a way without education. It’s outside of a lot of people’s comprehension that a $5,000 grant or $5,000 all together is throw away money for some and inconceivable for a lot of people in our community. It’s two months rent or it’s numerous car payments.”
While these barriers have always existed, COVID19 only further inflamed these disparities. The pandemic has been just as much of an economic crisis as it’s been a health crisis for many communities of color. Last year we saw 41 percent of Black-owned businesses shut down by COVID compared to just 17 percent of white-owned businesses. Some of the factors that contribute to this are why Black-owned and Latinx-owned businesses weren’t eligible to receive financial assistance from programs like Payment Protection Program (PPP), which was designed to help cover small business payroll and employee benefit expenses. Some of the reasons include not meeting certain requirements regarding credit, employee minimum, or having their businesses under an LLC license. The underlying issue and something Brown and Napier are addressing is a lack of relationships and access to large financial institutions for Black women.
“The reason that Black people struggle to access thinks like Payment Protection Programs (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) is because structurally our businesses are made up of our friends and family who are supporting, contributing, and investing the only way they know how and that’s by volunteering to work for us because these small businesses are often small — they can’t pay,” Napier adds. “When Black people think of a small business we know it’s one person in a room, packing product, sending emails, managing the website, managing the inventory, running social media, and everything in between. And when white America sees a small business they see 27 employees that had to be laid off. There’s such a difference in what people consider to be a small business.”
When Brown and Napier decided to launch Consider Something Better, it wasn’t solely inspired by the disparities they were seeing happening in Black communities but also by their own lived experiences. Even in efforts to secure funding for their latest initiative, the two were greeted with both hostility and suspicion when walking into a bank to open a new account. That experience further fueled a level of empathy within them that motivated them to want to foster and create change.
“The challenges that Black and brown women face in these inhospitable environments is discouraging and that could also be a reason why we’re less likely to receive loans and funding because there’s a lack of trust no matter what our credit score is,” Napier adds. “When I launched my brand I had an 800 + credit score and I couldn’t even get a bank loan — but I could get a credit card and I had to exhaust and use credit to run my business for so many years.”
The conversations Consider Something Better is having with companies these days go far beyond dollars and donations. They are urging corporate America and consumer brands to support the Black community at a deeper level. “We started with challenging the corporations with $250,000 donations with a goal of $5 million to support this community, but we have since evolved, grown, and expanded our mission to work with these corporations to build programming and strategy. A lot of it is us presenting ideas to these corporations that they haven’t even thought about,” Brown says. “We’re presenting them with ways they can support the community from a sustainable point of view, all the way to championing Black women through marketing and advertising, to creating grant programs, building an incubator, building an innovation lab — we’re demanding them to step it up. The opportunities are endless in the ways that they can support this community.”
Because the Black community is not monolithic, Napier and Brown have been working to tailor the program to each individual company and ensure corporations understand the different needs people in Black communities have, in order to communicate with and approach them effectively.
“It’s one thing to make a statement and claim that there’s financial monetary value that’s being given but oftentimes we learn that those contributions to large organizations don’t always touch the community. There are some foundations and institutions that are name checked in every single initiative but we don’t often see that trickle down in a real way to the community who desperately needs it,” Napier says. “Our mission and our initiative is Black women first. It’s making sure that at every turn, in every consideration, in everything we do — Black women will be considered, benefited, and elevated with every partnership that we take on and at every level.”