Tanya A. Christian

Twenty percent of small businesses fail by the first year, 30 percent by the second, and by the tenth year, roughly 70 percent of small businesses are forced to shutter their doors, leaving dashed dreams, financial distress, and disappointment in their wake. For Black entrepreneurs, the barriers to ownership tend to prove more challenging, and the odds of collapse, even greater. Knowing this, The Village Market (TVM) and Our Village United (OVU) is partnering with MasterCard to expand its ELEVATE program into new cities. 

“Our Village United’s work started in the midst of the pandemic when the future of small businesses, especially Black-owned small businesses was uncertain. Since 2020, we’ve been able to make a tremendous impact on over 250 Black-owned small businesses, and it’s a dream realized to be able to scale our impact nationally,” says Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon, founder, and CEO of The Village Market. “This program is an opportunity for Black entrepreneurs to gain the resources and funding they need to build sustainable businesses. I am thrilled to be doing this work with the support of a partner like Mastercard that understands the importance of investing in Black-owned businesses and the role their success plays in advancing the Black community as a whole.” 

TVM and OVU’s ability to scale has been fostered by its relationship with Mastercard. Rebecca Meeker, the VP of Business Development at MC first reached out to the Atlanta-based initiative in 2020 after learning of Hallmon’s work and the impact it was having in Atlanta. Through a series of meetings, both virtually and in-person, the two entities structured a strategic partnership that has provided thought leadership and programming for Black entrepreneurs looking to grow and positioned Mastercard as a key player in economic mobility. 

The financial services corporation is now the primary funder for Elevated Cities which is set to launch in 2023. Elevated Cities will impact Black-owned businesses across Atlanta, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New Orleans, New York City, Dayton, Birmingham, Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia and will help to deliver strategies and practices that will scale these selected businesses for growth. Hallmon says that Village Market and Our Village United have been hyper-localized in their efforts and national expansion has always been a goal. “We have a program that works and we are striving to support Black entrepreneurs globally,” Hallmon tells EBONY. 

While the success rate for small businesses is staggering, for Black entrepreneurs the numbers can feel dismal. Eight out of 10 Black-owned businesses fail within the first 18 months. Hallmon says this disparity is a signal that Black business owners are lacking access to resources and funding to build a foundation for a sustainable and thriving business. It’s why one of the initiative’s top priorities has been to connect businesses to their first retail opportunity, including opening their first brick-and-mortar location and brokering partnership deals with major retailers such as Target’s pro bono program. 

“Establishing and nurturing multi-vested ecosystems to support the growth and sustainability of Black businesses is substantial for the growth of Black businesses,” Hallmon says. “Support should be holistic – focusing on the whole entrepreneur from wellness, to resources, to financials, to relationships.”

The success of the ELEVATE program has been undeniable. Businesses have self-reported a $2MM increase in revenue since being in the ELEVATE program according to Hallmon.  She also notes that when participants asked if their business operations are stronger as a result of participating in the ELEVATE program, 92 percent of businesses indicated that they are. 34 percent of businesses have hired at least one employee. Roughly 78 percent have experienced an increase in their social media engagements since being in the program. A small percentage of businesses have begun applying for business certification (one for WBE, three for MBE, and one for both.

Elevated Cities builds on OVU’s ELEVATE program which works to provide wrap-around support for solopreneurs and microbusinesses through targeted capital grants, technical assistance, shared professional services, and wellness support for the business owner. 

While access to funding is critical, Hallmon asserts that one of the biggest challenges Black entrepreneurs face when growing their businesses is accessing the resources and technical assistance they need to create healthy businesses. “96 percent of Black entrepreneurs are sole operators, meaning they are running their businesses by themselves,” says Hallmon. “Entrepreneurs need back-office support, HR support, mentorship, and other critical support that is essential to building a solid foundation for a sustainable business. Our program connects Black entrepreneurs to these resources and a community committed to the growth and trajectory of their businesses.”

Businesses selected for the Elevated Cities program will participate in a 12-week incubator and receive access to $100,000 in grant opportunities, business development classes, mentorship programs, and professional and technical support services. OVU will also provide wellness support led by licensed wellness coaches and mental health practitioners. 

In the end, Hallmon says that the most successful businesses are run by owners that establish and nurture multi-vested ecosystems to support growth and sustainability, have a clear understanding of their vision and goals, and have the grit needed to navigate the sometimes strenuous day-to-day events that come with entrepreneurship. 

“I would encourage Black entrepreneurs to seek community, learn often, keep sight of their aspirations and purpose and believe fully in their ability to actualize their vision,” says Hallmon. She’s hoping the newest class of Elevated Cities entrepreneurs will foster that in the program and walk away with the tools needed for longtime success.

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