August Inspiration, Black Business Month


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By Jonnel Doris

Editor’s note: Whether you live, work, or do business in New York City or elsewhere, we encourage you to read this introduction by Jonnel Doris, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Small Business Services, and to study the report that he references: Advancing Black Entrepreneurship in NYC.
August is Black Business Month, a month for uplifting and supporting Black-owned businesses. While the Black community currently makes up 22 percent of New York City’s population (1.9 million), just 3.5 percent of NYC businesses are owned by Black entrepreneurs. And during the pandemic, Black-owned businesses in New York City were twice as likely to be closed during the pandemic than their white counterparts, and only received about 12 percent of the PPP funding they asked for.
George Harms 4But we know that Black-owned businesses are essential to the fabric of NYC, and they help define the character and feel of a community and enhance the identity of our economic makeup. We also know that there is tremendous potential for more Black-owned businesses to start and grow.
Jonnel DorisThat’s why we started BE NYC, a first-of-its-kind model in any major American city to actively address this disparity and build generational wealth in the Black community. Advancing Black Entrepreneurship in NYC is the blueprint for this initiative, focusing on equitable access to financing, strengthening connections within the city’s Black entrepreneurial community, and scaling Black businesses for long-term success.
We know that entrepreneurship is the most viable solution to address the racial wealth gap, and over the last year we’ve ramped up our BE NYC programming, from mentorship and networking opportunities to our Juneteenth event, the “Five Boro Black Business Forum: The Future Starts Here.” Since September 2020, over 1,800 entrepreneurs have attended BE NYC workshops, mentorship events, and networking opportunities.
This August and beyond, we will continue to honor our commitment to equity of opportunity. This means balancing our economic scales in a way that thoughtfully cultivates the many talents and needs of a historically diverse population so that everyone can participate. New York City does this best when we work together.

We encourage you to support Black-owned businesses this August and year-round. Visit to find local Black-owned businesses in your neighborhood.
If you’re a Black entrepreneur, we hope you’ll join us at an upcoming BE NYC event. Visit to learn more.

Brief Background of BE NYC, from the Annual Report

Black-owned businesses are an essential part of the fabric of New York City, and entrepreneurship has provided a pathway to wealth generation for Black families for centuries. Yet, Black entrepreneurs face enormous barriers and are vastly underrepresented among New York City’s business owners. While the Black community currently makes up 22 percent of New York City’s population (1.9 million), just 3.5 percent of NYC businesses are owned by Black entrepreneurs. There is tremendous potential for more Black-owned businesses to start and grow.

The forces that drive this disparity are essential to understand as the City of New York works to build a stronger and fairer city by creating opportunity for all, safeguarding the American dream, and addressing the racial wealth gap. That’s why in September 2019, the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) in partnership with community members, organizations, advocates, and leaders, launched Black Entrepreneurs NYC (BE NYC)—a groundbreaking model for a major American city to help create equity of opportunity by advancing Black entrepreneurship. To define the direction of the initiative, SBS combined insights from historical research, scholarly articles, public data, and, most importantly, the voices of more than 1,500 Black entrepreneurs from every borough and across industries.

Nationally, research shows that the success of Black entrepreneurs is largely tied to access to capital, education, and work experience. Disparities in all three of these areas, much of which can be traced back to historic discrimination of Black Americans, limit access to networks, mentors, and role models, and can also dictate industry choice—all factors that impact success and growth potential for Black entrepreneurs.
Looking at America’s top high-growth sectors over the next 10 years—healthcare, technology, and energy—there are wide disparities for Black entrepreneurs: 5 percent of healthcare firms are Black-owned, 1 percent of venture-backed tech founders are Black, and just 0.1 percent of clean energy firms are Black-owned. These high-growth sectors have generated significant technology gains and wealth around the country, but they have not benefitted all entrepreneurs equitably.

In order to understand the unique experience of Black entrepreneurs in New York City and how the city could help, SBS turned to entrepreneurs themselves. The response from the community was tremendous. In an effort to spark a public dialogue around Black entrepreneurship and generate momentum for the discussion, SBS began by hosting roundtable conversations with more than 60 advocates and faith-based leaders, and a kickoff event at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, attended by more than 400 people. These conversations laid the groundwork for SBS’s community engagement and data-gathering phase with Black entrepreneurs across the City. More than 800 entrepreneurs responded to an extensive online survey about their motivations, challenges, and needs, and nearly 200 people attended community forums across the city, in which they shared their experiences and iterated together on the most effective solutions to top barriers. More than 50 Black entrepreneurs participated in one-on-one interviews to dive deeper into their own entrepreneurial journeys.

Equipped with the insights gathered from the broader community, a BE NYC Cabinet of Advisors was convened, made up of leaders from business, academia, and city government. The cabinet has been crucial in helping to shape and prioritize solutions, connecting to networks, and committing to action in their industries.

Please spend several minutes reading Advancing Black Entrepreneurship in NYC to learn more about this important initiative.

Jonnel Doris, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Small Business Services has a range of successful experience in government, business, and the community. You may read his biographical information here.

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