Today we’re talking about free money in the form of venture capital and small business grants for women of color business owners. Growing up as a smart black girl in the Silicon Valley, I was always put on the accelerated track as far as education. I was in the accelerated classes at my middle and high school. That led to AP courses and college prep classes. It was very clear to me that my classroom peers and I were all destined for a college education. Never mind how we were supposed to pay for it.
My parents, one an immigrant and the other first generation to this country were not completely savvy to the ways of money and American capitalism. I can say that honestly now with the foresight of looking at their finances now as an adult. So when it came time to figure out the brass tacks of paying for college, I found myself in a career counselor’s office. Luckily for me, my college guidance was adept and knowledgeable. There was an abundance of resources around researching and applying for scholarships. I was fortunate enough to get into a private university here in New York. And I paid for my first year’s tuition almost entirely with scholarship money.
We attach our achievement and our ability to create wealth to higher education and what the world tells us counts as intellect.
Scholarships seem to be the golden ticket for people of color and immigrants in this country. Especially for how one generation gets to increase legacy and wealth for the next. We look for, and rely on, these subsidies to make up for the clear financial oppression and disadvantages we experience, just by way of our own culture and existence in this land. There’s a certain pride in receiving a scholarship. We see it all the time in the spring when students start making their decisions about universities. And parents get to declare the scholarships that their children were awarded. We attach our achievement and our ability to create wealth to higher education and what the world tells us counts as intellect. If I’m smart enough I should be able to create wealth. But how does that infrastructure fail us?
Intellect/smarts is not what creates wealth
When I think about the opportunities available to people of color in entrepreneurial space, the question of how we relate to money and our intellect comes up again. In the career space you can be the smartest person in the room and still be the lowest paid. I think that’s usually the case for most highly educated women of color in this country. I know it is. You’ve done all of the work, and study so hard, and yet somehow it doesn’t unlock the door to wealth or economic advancement.
I know Harvard professors who received full scholarships and it still doesn’t equate in their finances. (The world of academia and money is a topic for another time). It’s apparent that intellect/smarts is not what creates wealth in this country (or perhaps anywhere). And when we look at the impact to business ownership, it’s clear.
Funding and financing.
It’s not about how much you know. It’s about who you know and how well they know you.
When we think about advancing our legacy through education everyone understands you have to apply for scholarships. It’s clear. It’s something sold to us as a form of reparations.
Why aren’t you pitching your ideas for small business grants?
But when I ask small business owners how they’re going to create wealth through their entrepreneurial ventures and how they intend to fund those things, often the first things that come to mind are draining retirement accounts or taking out of a home equity line.
What has us so comfortable with cannibalizing our primary, and sometimes sole, assets in order to further the line for generations to come?
Why is it that we turn first to “should I get a business credit card?” Instead of to “is there a way for me to apply for small business grants as a minority or woman-owned business?”
Why is it that despite so many philanthropists and organizations willing to throw money at brilliant ideas that we’re not taking our brilliant ideas to pitch for venture capitalist funding? Or taking out small business grants funding in record numbers? Not just for nonprofit ventures but for for-profit ventures as well?
Do we not see these opportunities in the same vein as a scholarship? Are we not worthy in our business ideals in the same way we are in our educational pursuits? Because it definitely feels like we are doing the work.
If you don’t ask…
Part of it stems back to where this conversation began. Part of it has to do with awareness and a degree of education around what is available to us. Not every high school has a good career counselor. Someone who’s going to let you know that every year Coca-Cola gives away money to everyone who applies. Could it be possible that women business owners in marginalized spaces are just not aware of the small business grants that are up for grabs? Do we truly only believe that the options available to us are limited to credit cards and 401K loans and home equity lines of credit? If we’re honest how many black business owners are asking for venture capital, never mind receiving it?
Because of course if you don’t ask, or don’t know how to ask, then you’ll never receive.
And what about grants and those types of funding opportunities? Don’t ask if you should get a business credit card or put your business expenses on your personal credit card. You should be considering how many small business grants applications you can file in the next 6 months. How familiar are you with the Foundation Center? Have you reached out to ask for a SCORE Mentor? Or a counselor from the small business administration to see what support you can get from our government just by way of being a business owner? There is a wealth – a literal wealth – of opportunities and resources available to us. But somehow we seem to have blocked them out of our menu of resources and opportunities.
Who has the capital? Who provides the funding?
Of course the other part of this equation, once we can get past the awareness that’s we can actually open our mouths to ask for what we need to feed our business, enters. The next part of the equation is starting to look at the equity and who has control over these funding resources. There is gross under-representation of women and people of color when we look at the grant makers and venture capital funds. And who has the authority to issue the grants and to provide the funding.
Part of the reason why we’re underfunded is because those who have the resources are not familiar with the culture, the problems that our businesses solve and the solutions that we bring. Even if you get on Shark Tank will anyone on that panel be able to see themselves in the vision or the solution that you bring to the market?
It’s a two-fold problem:
- We need to make ourselves more aware of the resources available to us
- and at the same time we need to start creating and providing those resources to others.
I spoke about this a couple months ago and thinking about how women of color need to learn to toot our own horn but even beyond that there’s an opportunity to think about how we not only ask for our financial due but also start to control the very well that’s able to further ideas and missions in our communities.
If it sounds like a topic that you’d love to explore or if you are ready to get funded, debt free, check out the next she runs it panel discussion. I will be joined by expert women of color in the fields of venture capital, crowdfunding, and grant-making. Let’s stop waiting for someone to make our business dreams come true. Because we deserve so much more than that and our financial legacies depend on it.