ESI’s Lee Huang sits down with Della Clark, President of The Enterprise Center, to discuss access to the capital and the work The Enterprise Center focuses on.
LH: What’s the vision behind the new equity fund, and how does it represent a natural outgrowth of your almost 30 years of work at The Enterprise Center?
DC: The Enterprise Center is proud to have served minority enterprises over the last 30 years. As we celebrate this special year, we are resetting our focus on capital and becoming a team of specialists in growing, merging, and scaling minority enterprises.
This enhanced vision is simple: pry open the floodgates to capital access for minority enterprises to significantly scale. To spark new entrepreneurial leaders for our region, we will partner to secure blended capital (both equity and debt). This capital to these CEO’s will support their investments in their own communities and contribute their business impact toward economic stimulus.
Thanks to the US Dept of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) funding for a year-long initiative called Innovate Capital, we established an equity investment thesis. We have concluded the fund thesis should offer flexible equity, non-controlling interest, and require businesses to have a solid management team during the investment period. Each investment will require a board of directors consisting of specialized management professionals. Philadelphia will be included as a starting point because we made a very good case for the need and opportunity here.
LH: What barriers do entrepreneurs of color face in accessing capital, and how does your equity fund help them overcome those barriers?
DC: Entrepreneurs of color face deeply entrenched problems that manifest in a variety of ways. Several examples include: traditional financial institutions that overlook minorities because they have lower credit scores (often a result of lower wealth levels) or are over leveraged; minority business owners that have liquidity issues and/or expensive debt through factoring, predatory lending, and A/R providers; and black and Latinx founders who receive less than three percent of venture capital in the U.S. Beyond capital barriers, minorities are less likely to have the personal, professional, and industry networks to support starting, growing, and scaling their enterprises. The sum of these problems is an ecosystem that both prohibits and squanders the talent and innovation of minority entrepreneurs and enterprises everywhere. [We] will offer equity capital that will have non-controlling and flexible terms that allow the entrepreneur of color to focus on growth versus being a risk manager of a capital stack comprised of only debt.
LH: What is needed from a policy standpoint (at the local, state, and/or federal level) in order to level the playing field for all businesses? What is the payoff for our region’s competitiveness if we get this right?
DC: We need to elevate minority entrepreneurship at the local, state and/or federal level by focusing more on investing capital and less on training programs. From a policy standpoint, we only know of training versus investment capital as a solution.
The payoff for our region would be huge if we focused on combining capital, contracts, and capacity to scale minority enterprises. These also directly connect with the needs of businesses, which training often does not. The result will be positive impact from business contributions to community wealth and, at the same time, help address community poverty reduction.
LH: Anything else you want to say about the importance of capital access and of breaking down barriers to ensure equity in access?
DC: We need new and bold capital initiatives created as a 21st-century solution that will significantly scale entrepreneurs of color.
Della Clark is President of The Enterprise Center – an organization at the forefront of its region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, guided by the mission to cultivate and invest in minority entrepreneurs to inspire working together for economic growth in communities.
Lee Huang is Senior Vice President & Principal of ESI. Lee brings over 20 years of experience in economic development to his public, private, institutional, and not-for-profit clients. His economic inclusion work has included analyses of the utilization of minority- and women-owned businesses in municipal contracts in Philadelphia, as well as examinations of home lending, business lending, and branch location patterns in Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and New York City.