Like so many other Americans, I was deeply saddened and disturbed by the death of George Floyd, alongside the growing list of injustices that have sparked a national conversation about the impact of systemic racism on our society.
We’ve had these conversations before, only to fall back into the same patterns. But something feels different this time. We are at a moment in history where few things are certain and people have more time to step back, reflect and let the truth sink in. It makes me hopeful because I see a groundswell of support for change, the likes of which I haven’t seen for decades.
Last week JumpStart took its stand in this conversation by releasing our public commitment to fighting systemic racism, including a pledge to address racism as a public health crisis. These public statements are important, but we also know it takes action to turn words into lasting change.
So, as we advocate for larger systemic change nationwide, here are a few of the tangible things we’re doing right now to make our daily work with entrepreneurs and small business owners more diverse, inclusive and equitable.
Increasing Access to Capital
One of JumpStart’s first roles in Northeast Ohio was investing venture capital into tech startups. This remains an important part of our mission, and while our investing work has been far more diverse than the venture capital industry as a whole, we still have a very long way to go in our effort to find and fund more Black and Brown tech founders.
Recently, JumpStart also began using its resources and influence to support more capital options for Black and Brown entrepreneurs who are not running venture-backed startups, with a focus on small business lending.
Our support of organizations like HFLA demonstrates our desire to bring more capital into the community by empowering a diverse group of partners who are already doing this important work.
This same principle applies to our recent efforts to stabilize small businesses struggling because of COVID-19. Alongside KeyBank, we’ve provided $1M in relief grants for these businesses, with a focus on those who were unable to access federal relief dollars. At the same time, we’ve committed another $500K in emergency loan funding to support graduates of one of our various “Impact Programs,” more than 70 percent of whom are Black or Latinx.
Offering More Inclusive Services
So far in 2020, approximately 40 percent of the businesses JumpStart has worked with have been Black or Latinx-led and we are also taking more steps to make sure the help we offer addresses the true needs and experiences of these communities.
This is what has led us to create new services for our Spanish-speaking clients; and we are currently in the midst of planning additional resources, programming and partnerships to help the entrepreneurs we serve get the help and resources they need, whether they are launching a venture-backed tech startup or growing a traditional small business.
Deepening Our Community Collaborations
Real collaboration is the foundation of diversity, inclusion and equity. This is the reason we’ve helped convene and support Business Growth Collaboratives (BGCs) in Northeast and Northwest Ohio. These collaboratives reflect the diverse communities they serve and have come together to improve the level of coordination among and build a resource ecosystem that is easier to navigate and better able to meet the needs of diverse entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Last month, we also came together with four other organizations in the Northeast Ohio BGC around a shared Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR), Ron Stubblefield. Ron is a collaborative resource dedicated to advancing Black and Brown tech entrepreneurship in Northeast Ohio.
Collaborations like these aren’t always easy, but I’ve seen great strides at our organization in building the kind of trust and goodwill we will need to make a visible, measurable change.
I’m grateful to be part of an organization that has prioritized diversity, inclusion and equity for many years. We have a long way to go, as a nation and as an organization, but we also have an amazing opportunity to make this moment a true turning point in the fight for institutional change.