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First Dollar Program calendar    Jun 01, 2021

Q+A with Louisville Urban League (A Path Forward)

Learn about the First Dollar Program, a partnership between Render Capital and the Louisville Urban League, providing early-stage capital to Black and Brown entrepreneurs in Louisville. Discover how the program supports these entrepreneurs and addresses historic inequalities.

We recently launched the First Dollar Program to provide early-stage capital to Louisville’s Black and Brown entrepreneurs. Through partnerships, Render Capital will provide critical “first dollar” grants to early-stage entrepreneurs who lack capital access due to historic and systemic inequality. The First Dollar program provides $5,000 grants to businesses at the earliest stage of business development—when capital investment is most critical. In this Q&A series with our First Dollar Program partners, we will introduce the four local, black-led partner organizations. Their close work with entrepreneurs makes them vital in facilitating the disbursement of the grant funds. We ask each partner about their work, recent wins and the future of their organization. Here is what Louisville Urban League (A Path Forward) had to say:

 Tell us a little bit about the Louisville Urban League / A Path Forward.

The mission is to assist African Americans and other marginalized populations in attaining social and economic equality through direct services and advocacy. The Louisville Urban League, like all affiliates, is dedicated to fostering economic empowerment in order to elevate the standard of living in historically underserved urban communities, with its focus on Jobs, Justice, Education, Health and Housing. The A Path Forward initiative was developed in the summer of 2020 in direct response to the civil unrest and calls for justice. A collective group of black nonprofits leaders organized by the LUL developed a comprehensive strategic plan to address the challenges in the black community around all the sectors.

How do you support black and brown entrepreneurs in the Louisville/Southern Indiana region?

A Path Forward identified priority needs for black businesses, particularly in West Louisville. These focus specifically on access to professional back-office services and access to funding. 2020 was a challenging year for all businesses but even more so for black businesses. Many black businesses that were already financially fragile have closed and many others that were trying to maintain were not able to access aid due to lack of typical back-office functions to produce proper documentation. All of this has made it apparent that a part of the black business support ecosystem has to include access to a network of affordable professional services.

A Path Forward will be working with the Amped Russell Tech Business incubator to create a network of volunteers to augment paid back-office support around accounting, legal marketing and other industry-specific services. The idea is that intervention in early-stage businesses will assist in creating the structural and operational foundation to develop solid businesses early on. Businesses equipped with these strategies and practical knowledge should have better outcomes related to gaining assistance and capitalizing on opportunities leading to increased sustainability. 

As a First Dollar Program partner, you’re working with businesses at the earliest stages of business development. What trends have you seen in early-stage funding for black and brown entrepreneurs?

Early-stage businesses struggle with access to funding beyond their own contributions. Most do not have the necessary credit history or collateral required for traditional business loans. In addition, particularly for black and other underserved business owners, most do not have the social networks or the knowledge to even begin to get prepared for capital. With the exception of a few nonprofit microlenders, the options are limited. Even in mainstream business financing, there is an absence of flexible products to address the specific challenges of minority business owners.  

How will First Dollar funds support your work?

First Dollar funds and the intended outcomes are directly in line with the goals of A Path Forward business initiatives. These funds will help us directly support early-stage black business. These early dollars coupled with the appropriate technical assistance and resources will directly impact the businesses’ ability to create foundations that comes from strong back-office structure and operating functions. 

Why is it important to support the development of black and brown businesses specifically?

Business ownership is one of the main building blocks of wealth generation. Businesses are also crucial building blocks of thriving communities. Historically black entrepreneurs have faced intentional barriers to building wealth and community through business ownership. The impact is apparent in the income disparities and struggling neighborhoods. Black people are not lacking in creative ideas or innovative ways to address market-based problems. They deserve intentional support to create strong lasting businesses to improve economic security, establish generational wealth through legacy businesses, and produce thriving communities.

How has the work of your organization shifted in the last year due to COVID and increased public attention toward racial injustice?

The Urban League has always been involved in the work of justice, particularly in the form of economic empowerment. However, A Path Forward initiatives were developed in direct response to the social unrest the country experienced this past year. The shift came in the form of working collaboratively with organizations doing the work to develop a coordinated effort and plan to move Black Louisville Forward. In the business sectors, there have been various programs aimed at underserved populations but lacked a targeted effort specifically for Black businesses. City budget cuts eliminated the business resources that were available at NIA center leaving a gap in West Louisville for business owners.  Amid the pandemic and calls for social justice, it was starkly apparent what the lack of these resources was costing black business owners. We are intentionally partnering with other organizations to support and coordinate efforts to increase access to business services and funding.

Can you share an example of a recent “win” for the Louisville Urban League / A Path Forward?

A Path Forward has received positive attention and support for the initiatives. As a result of that early support, APF was able to assist a local inventor with securing the necessary funds through a forgivable loan to get his design to production and eventually to market. This early success serves as a model for creating responsive flexible products and the impact support in early-stage business can have.

What preconceived notions exist in your line of work? 

It seems that a lot of society’s perceptions are built on the concept of bootstrapping. That if you are ambitious enough and work hard enough you can attain success. This is paired with the preconceived notion that people are looking for handouts and don’t want to do the work. The reality is that success never happens alone, and minorities in particular Black people have been faced with barriers intentionally created to mitigate that chance of success. Creating opportunities, supporting and equipping these businesses with the tools and skills to create sustainable businesses is empowering and not a handout. 

What would you say to individuals/organizations that want to support the work of Louisville Urban League/A Path Forward?

We are encouraging people to read A Path Forward for Louisville and find places where they or their organization can be of assistance. The business initiatives are specifically looking for those that would like to volunteer professional services and or mentoring.

What’s on the horizon for Louisville Urban League/A Path Forward in 2021? And what gives you hope for the future?

We are looking forward to partnering with AMPED’s Russell Tech Business Incubator, Buy Black Lou and other organizations to build a robust network of professional services providers and black businesses as well as being a hub for black businesses to connect to resources including funding. We are in a unique position to create programs to fill the gaps, address existing needs and be responsive to new challenges.

“Growing up in West Louisville I have witnessed the changes over the years and how it has impacted the community. I am hopeful for change in the future as I see a renewed energy in people and projects that are targeted in helping black businesses be successful and communities thrive.”

Cynthia Brown, Managing Director, Black Business Initiatives

Learn more about how you can support Louisville Urban League (A Path Forward) here.

We envision a robust and thriving regional economy where entrepreneurs see the Midwest and South as a place they can find appropriate risk capital necessary for them to start and grow.

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