B-Cubed: Black and Brown-owned Business Growth Program
Updated: Feb 8
When COVID-19 broke out in March 2020, small businesses struggled to remain open during lockdowns and the subsequent economic standstill. Black-owned businesses were even less likely to handle forced closures due to a lack of financial assets and relief. An analysis of nearly 6 million PPP loans made between April 2020 and February 2021 showed that Black-owned businesses accounted for only 8.6 percent of all PPP loans (National Bureau of Economic Research 2021).
Harrisonburg Councilman Chris Jones saw a critical need to support minority-owned businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak. He initiated conversations with Harrisonburg Economic Development and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR) to create a program to serve Black and Brown-owned businesses in Rockingham County. Building upon the Bricks and Clicks model (more on this below), a program was created to develop resources to enable Black and Brown entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses. To implement this model, the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce joined as partners to launch the Black and Brown-Owned Business Growth Program (B-Cubed). MillerCoors donated $15,000 in seed money, and in April 2021 the first B-Cubed cohort was launched.
The Blueprint: The Bricks and Clicks model
The Bricks and Clicks small business retention and expansion program was a result of a partnership among HDR, Harrisonburg Economic Development, and the SBDC. The team learned after a few rounds of group trainings and small grants that business owners benefited more from one-on-one assistance. “When small business owners attend trainings, they get hit with a lot of general concepts and ideas that they have to translate to action items for their business,” says Andrea Dono, executive director of HDR. “We wanted to match entrepreneurs with experts who had experience in the areas they needed direct support in and allow them to take a deep dive together. The participants walked away with specific recommendations that were customized for their business and then received a small grant to put ideas into action. We added a networking support component to B-Cubed and ran with it.”
Tailored business support for Black & Brown entrepreneurs
Today, B-Cubed is a partnership among the City of Harrisonburg, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, and the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center. The program provides a range of services and resources to assist businesses, no matter their current business stage:
B-Cubed begins with one-on-one business counseling from the Shenandoah Valley SBDC. The business counselor learns about the entrepreneur, the business, and their needs, and works with the entrepreneur to draft a strategy to success.
As the entrepreneur works with the SBDC, together they identify potential projects/activities to undertake to help the business. This may be bookkeeping assistance, financial management, marketing assistance, etc. The technical assistance that the program offers varies depending on the needs of the entrepreneur. Some assistance will be through group workshops, giving the entrepreneurs a chance to meet each other.
At times, B-Cubed is able to subsidize or secure discounts for entrepreneurs to attend conferences/meetings (e.g. the 2022 Shenandoah Valley Entrepreneurship Summit, 2022 SWaMfest in Richmond).
In addition, B-Cubed offers mini-grants to the program participants, typically around $3,000.
Finally, when the entrepreneur is ready (but typically after several months in B-Cubed), they receive a free one-year membership from the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber membership gives the entrepreneur the opportunity to meet people at Chamber events to network, meet new potential clients, and grow their business.
To date, B-Cubed has convened 7 cohorts, serving 37 businesses. Of those, 18 businesses have progressed to receiving a mini-grant.
Allison Dugan of the Shenandoah Valley SBDC explains, “An important aspect of SBDC assistance is equipping business owners with the information and resources that help them make good decisions. We teach by working alongside our clients, we show them how to fix nagging problems so they can do it for themselves in the future. Technical things become a little less mysterious when we work and learn together, like how to navigate the backend of a website or by creating a budget and cash flow projections step by step. We are there when they need us, and we meet them where they are, with focus on the most pressing thing first and then chip away at the other challenges and goals they have for themselves, and their businesses. This is our approach with all of our clients, including those who are part of B-Cubed.”
The Central Valley Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
The B-Cubed team describes the entrepreneurial support system in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County as strong and committed. Peirce Macgill, B-Cubed representative at Harrisonburg Economic Development, adds, “There are so many resources, it can actually sometimes be confusing for entrepreneurs. From start-up to early stage to well-established, there are resources for every business. Organizations supporting entrepreneurs in our area include: Harrisonburg Economic Development, HDR, Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce, the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center, the Shenandoah Valley Technology Council, the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship and community outreach department at James Madison University (JMU), the entrepreneurship center at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), and the Shenandoah Community Capital Fund. We have bootcamps for start-ups and meet-ups for entrepreneurs and techies. Above all of this, however, is the spirit of entrepreneurship in Harrisonburg (and the Valley). Here, entrepreneurs help each other. They lift each other up and want each other to succeed.”
Karen McIntyre, owner of Pink Ambition Pole Fitness and B-Cubed participant, is living proof of the interconnected support system in Harrisonburg. She explains, “Right after the 2020 pandemic started, I got connected with Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, because they were giving out grants to help businesses stay afloat. The grant came with a Small Business Development Center advisor who has been great at providing me with guidance.” Thanks to this support system Karen flourished, “By having organizations believe in me and support me, my whole mindset changed. I started putting myself out there more in the community, began networking, and started actually marketing my business. My business and I have grown more in the past two years than I did in my first five years of business!”
Challenges for Black and Brown entrepreneurs in the Central Valley
Raising capital is a challenge for any entrepreneur, but when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Black businesses were disproportionately affected (source). During the pandemic, Black business ownership declined by more than 40%. "On the surface, Black entrepreneurs can participate in whatever bootcamp or workshops are available, however, in most cases, we do not always feel welcome. In most instances, we know and feel as though the space created to help businesses thrive was not created with us, African Americans, in mind.”, explains Chris Jones. He continues, “we know we must code-switch and dim our cultural perspective to fit into a space designed by and for predominantly white people. It’s just not the same as attending a training or one-on-one consulting session with another Black entrepreneur who knows what it’s like, who has a shared experience.”
The Future of Black and Brown-owned businesses in the Central Valley
Peirce Macgill shares his hopes for the B-Cubed program, “We are continually growing and improving our entrepreneurial ecosystem. It’s amazing what has been accomplished in the last 5 years. It is a wildly different support system today than it was even 10-15 years ago. More people are becoming actively involved and more programs are being developed. It keeps me motivated to keep doing the work!”
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