5 Easy Ways to Support Black Founders Now

June 12, 2020 / Share:

A letter from VP of Inclusion and Community Relations Brynn Plummer


The movement for Black lives that has been unfolding over the past 8 years has come to a head in recent weeks with the death of Geroge Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police. These events have prompted many to ask, “What is my role here? What can I do to help?” At the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, we exist to support entrepreneurs, and we invite you, a member of our broader community, to take part in supporting our Black entrepreneurs specifically in this moment.

Ending the senseless deaths of Black people is at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement, but it is merely the start of reimagining a more just society. Black people want to thrive, not merely survive. `

And what does it take to thrive in our society? Economic mobility, opportunity and self-determination, all potential outcomes of successful entrepreneurship and business ownership. Studies find a correlational link between business ownership and intergenerational upward mobility and wealth creation, and Black-Americans tend to express higher levels of desire to pursue entrepreneurship in comparison to peers. However, there are still dramatic disparities in the rates of Black founder success in comparison to their peer business owners. The persistent racial wealth gap puts Black founders at a disadvantage during the critical “friends and family round,” while less than 1% of VC dollars are going to Black-owned companies. And recently, both Marcus Whitney of Jumpstart Foundry and the Nashville Business Journal have highlighted the progress we still have to make for Black Nashvilleans to reach parity with their peers in this city.

But we know that there are key interventions that can help Black entrepreneurs find success. When I came to the EC in September 2018, I conducted a listening tour to understand the experiences of founders of color in our community, many of them Black founders. What I found was that Black founders wanted tangible support.  Connections, access to capital, advanced mentoring that is technical and not merely motivational, a supportive community, financial guidance, an entrepreneurial ecosystem free from racism and discrimination. 

With their feedback, we were able to implement a slate of changes. We strengthened relationships with minority chambers, entrepreneurial support organizations with more diverse member bases, and launched both the Twende Summit and Twende cohort for founders of color (“Twende” is kiswahili for “let’s go”). From Jan 1, 2019 to Dec 31, 2019, our community of entrepreneurs of color grew by more than 26%, a rate that outpaced our overall membership growth, with Black entrepreneurs comprising the largest segment of this growth. Every day, Black founders strategize, create, theorize, collaborate and grow their businesses in our halls and in our virtual spaces.

We are early in our journey, and learning how to improve every day. We do know that founders need an entire support system to make their dreams come to fruition. How can you support Nashville’s Black innovators? We have taken a stab at laying out 5 ideas to get you started:

  1. Expand your thought circle. Think of 10 entrepreneurial leaders you admire — founders, technologists, legal or financial professionals. If you have 2 or fewer Black leaders on that list, you’re likely missing out on vital perspective and wisdom that can make you a more well-rounded professional and leader. Increasing the diversity of your media will make you better poised to contribute to equity and anti-racism in your own circle. Some people to follow and/or read:

    • Bill McCleskey, CEO and Founder of Mitech Partners

    • Marcus Whitney, Co-founder of Jumpstart Foundry

    • Joshua Mundy of Pivot Tech School, theLab and Music City Cleaners

    • Danielle McGee, founder of Nashville’s Black Business Boom and the 19,000 strong online community Black People Making Moves

    • Ashford Hughes, former Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer of the City of Nashville

    • And on the national stage, check out Arlan Hamilton, CEO of Backstage Capital, Mandela S-H Dixon, CEO of FounderGym, Jewel Berks-Solomon, CEO/Founder of PartPic, and any of the founders or leaders of the nation’s top Black VC and investment firms.

  2. Cover a Black founder’s fees for an entrepreneurship program, such as:

    • The EC’s PreFlight program, 14 week building your business course

    • The EC’s Twende Program, a year long cohort for founders of color with an existing product in the marketplace

    • Later stage EC programs InFlight, Project Music and Project Healthcare

    • Pathway Women’s Business Centers Discover or Pathway Cohorts

    • Corner to Corner’s The Academy, a program for entrepreneurs to launch their ventures

  3. Pay startup costs for Black founders. Well-documented disparities in venture capital aside, Black tech founders are at a disadvantage in two ways. First, the American racial wealth gap can make it unlikely for Black founders to have the family wealth to seed their ideas. Second, because tech startups often lack hard assets, they’re not as desirable candidates for traditional lending.

    • Other cities are already leading the way with funds dedicated to underrepresented founders. Memphis organization Epicenter’s Friends and Family Fund is a resource for entrepreneurs who do not have family wealth or personal liquidity to invest in their businesses. Birmingham’s Innovation Depot runs the Velocity Accelerator invests $50,000 and up to $1mm in perks to founders, many of them Black. Interested in connecting with others who’d want to start a fund like thi
      s? Get in touch with us.

  4. Mentor and build meaningful networks with Black founders.

    • Two of the most important factors that distinguish successful ventures from the less successful are a) accelerated mentorship and sound counsel and b) high-powered networks. If you have access to money, power or people, think about how to deploy that financial, social and navigational capital for the betterment of Black founders. 

  5. Be a customer, investor, or strategic partner of this city’s Black founders. As Founder Institute posits, the solutions to our ongoing lack of investment in founders of color are going to need to be structural in nature. And we believe that we will find those structural solutions soon, but for now, we can at least get started right here at home. Below are just a fraction of the Black-owned startups we are honored to work with at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center as program participants or alumni:

    • Marcus Cobb, founder of Jammber, creative project management and royalties automating platform

    • Shani Dowell, founder of Possip, a platform that empowers parents to give direct feedback to their childrens’ schools.

    • Bill McCleskey, founder of Mitech Partners, a full service white glove telecommunications support service 

    • Danielle McGee, founder of Black Business Boom and organizer of the online community Black People Making Moves, which now boasts more than 19,000 members.

    • Tony Murrell, founder of 360 Inventory Solutions, a commercial and business property inventory firm created by Murrell, a Captain of the Metro Nashville Fire Department, after years of seeing families devastated by unexpected property and home losses.

    • Sade Meeks, founder of G.R.I.T.S., Inc. (Growing Resilience in the South), a nonprofit aimed at disrupting food injustice and creating a generation of Black and LatinX licensed dietitians.

    • Karen Williams, founder of MinTech Agency. MinTech Agency places top Black and Latinx talent in tech jobs across Middle Tennessee, and is currently rapidly scaling.

    • JM Eberhardt, founder of Stroll, an app that connects customers with local businesses via digital content and location-based marketing.

    • Curtis Payne, founder of Payne Technology, a full service IT installation and tech repair firm.

    • Nielah Burnett, founder of InnerG, a cold-pressed juice delivery and holistic wellness company

    • Domonique Townsend, founder of We Optimize Work, a consulting, training and re-invention platform to enable business in the STEM space to reduce inefficiencies and better engage 

We believe fiercely in the founders who call the EC home, and put our full support behind them as they pursue their dreams. But our support is just the beginning — with the support of more individuals in our community just like you, we know their odds of achieving success can only improve. We invite you to make your support measurable, be it in time, dollars or connections. Still looking for more you can do today? Maybe try a new restaurant for a meal, a new SaaS platform, or a new personal care item from this inventory of more than 600 Black-owned businesses in the Nashville area.

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