Building a business is hard enough. But when entrepreneurs also face historical disadvantages, the odds of success are greatly diminished.
Will Peters, chairman of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, knows this well. More often than not, he says, his members launched businesses with only a fraction of the resources available to some of their white counterparts.
So earlier this year, the Black Chamber surveyed its members to better understand what challenges they face. And from that survey, a “strategic plan” emerged.
“They found that networking was a challenge because there were several pockets of different networks,” Peters told ShopTalk. “If a young black company needs to scale and grow, finding all the resources that’s needed required running from place to place to identify who’s who.”
But the bigger problem, he said, related to expansion capital.
Peters quoted data from a national survey that shows a huge gap between black and white household net worth – an average of $6,000 vs $60,000, he said.
Those numbers matter greatly when a startup is looking to scale up.
So in addition to providing resources and networking opportunities, Peters said the Black Chamber also is focusing on financial education to help members grow their net worth.
It’s all part of a relaunch of sorts for the chamber, which has been around for about 10 years and currently has about 300 members. Peters said the organization recently hired a local firm to help brand its new initiatives and will hire an executive director in 2015.
The chamber also is booking more speakers for member education. At a recent event, diversity executives from two of the region’s biggest retailers shared “5 tips every MBE (minority business enterprise) should know and heed.”
“It’s a work in progress,” Peters said. “When you look at the larger Chamber, which has been around about 100 years, I’m sure they’ve had their growing pains. Sometimes you have to reset just to grow more.”
This time around, Peters said, current leaders are determined to set goals for success, which he defined as revenue growth for members.
“We want to have a metric in place where we can measure that,” he said. “And we want to consistently and effectively communicate that fact.”
Peters said the Black Chamber works closely with the Latino Chamber of Commerce and the city’s primary Chamber, which provides free meeting space for the African-American group.
“It’s not a black-white-Latino thing,” he said. “It’s a growth thing.
“It’s a big job to grow this economy,” he added. “Charlotte is a diverse community, so it’s hard for one chamber to take on the weight of all these different communities. Strategically, it’s critical that we have these affinity chambers to help grow this economy.”