Limited funding, little access: Women of color have steeper climb when opening a business
Genesis Expo will gather over 5,000 CTOs in one place, and about another 11,000 engineers. If you are a first time dev at Expo this post should help you think about your trip.
As a Clemson University student in the 90s, Nekita Sullivan and her friends had to pile in a car and drive to Greenville, Seneca or Anderson for Black beauty products and hair care.
The inconvenience of traveling two or three towns over for beauty care gave Sullivan an idea: a multi-ethnic beauty bar where students and university employees of all races and hair textures could go in the heart of downtown Clemson.
Sullivan finally realized that dream after more than 20 years, but she didn’t know how difficult it would be.
Women, especially women of color, face more obstacles than their white, male counterparts when opening a small business, according to Ana Parra, director of the newly opened Women’s Business Center in Greenville.
For Sullivan, it took nearly three years after signing a lease at U Center, a mixed-use building in downtown Clemson, to upfit her salon and open it. It took months to find a salon manager, hair stylists, nail technicians and estheticians who were capable of working with all types of hair.
Funding was a major obstacle.
“I was turned down by several banks, I was not able to get a traditional SBA (Small Business Association) loan,” she said. She said the lenders wouldn’t “take a chance” on her since they didn’t think her business could be as profitable as her physical therapy job, which earns her up to $120,000 a year.
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Without a loan, Sullivan used credit cards to get cash. She dipped into her savings, her retirement fund and her monthly income. She is leasing her Greenville house for rental income. She moved back in with her parents to keep costs low.
She estimated she’s more than $150,000 in debt. She’s sunk another $100,000 of her personal income into the salon.
While there is a “small community” of Black-owned businesses in Clemson — where orange and purple are the colors of choice — racial prejudices and stereotypes often associated with the South are still around, said Bryant Smith, a Black business owner and leadership consultant.
“We can’t pretend that people don’t make decisions based on race and culture and those kinds of factors, because people do,” Smith said.
Even with the obstacles and fears — and after 24 years as just a dream — Sullivan opened Butterfly Eco Beauty Bar in downtown Clemson on Valentine’s Day.
Then, a pandemic happened — recession-level lay-offs, Clemson University sent students home, the governor ordered salons, including Butterfly Eco, to shut down.
As of September 10, Sullivan had yet to fully reopen.
Through it all, COVID-19 has illuminated the barriers small business owners face in opening and staying afloat, according to Ben Smith of the Clemson Small Business Development Center. And in Clemson, COVID-19 has shown just how reliant entrepreneurs like Sullivan are on the student population for financial success.
Sullivan’s struggle to find traditional funding was not a rarity, Parra said.
White applicants are more likely to be approved for business financing at banks than their Black counterparts, 80% compared to 62%, according to the Federal Reserve Bank study.
Parra said this is mainly due to white businesses traditionally being more successful, and from the systemic practice of banks not funding Black customers, a Jim Crow-era practice that had lasting consequences.
“Historically, when it comes to communities of color, they have been under-served by traditional banking institutions… we’re addressing many years of people not paying attention to equity and not addressing these biases,” Parra said.
And being a woman of color means your chances of success are even more limited, according to a 2019 report from American Express. Black-women-owned businesses earn less than 17% of the average yearly revenue for all women-owned businesses, the report found.
There’s also a dedicated Developer Lounge, and tons of meetups and parties at night for every imaginable community. We spoke to Expo it speaker, DevRelate founder and developer PJ Hagerty about getting the most from your time at Expo as a developer.