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Deputy SBA Administrator chats with Memphis entrepreneurs about resources for Black-owned businesses

Last October, a report by HeartlandForward.org said that while Memphis has almost 55,000 Black Owned businesses, less than 1,200 of them have employees.

On Wednesday Small Business Administration Deputy Administrator Dilawar Syed said he thinks that number should be closer to 15,000 — and that the SBA is there to help make it happen.

In a fireside chat titled “SBA and Entrepreneurship in a Diverse America,” Syed emphasized the significant impact of federal initiatives such as the bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the American Rescue Plan, and the Inflation Reduction Act. These investments, he noted, are reminiscent of the New Deal era in their scale and ambition, aiming to create new opportunities for entrepreneurs nationwide.

“These investments are creating an entrepreneurial stimulus by necessitating new classes of companies to support large-scale projects like Ford’s EV factory near Memphis and major solar installations,” Syed stated.

The event, organized by the City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity and Compliance, focused on how federal investments under President Biden’s administration are fostering entrepreneurial growth and economic development in historically underserved communities. It was held at the Universal Life Building, an icon of Black wealth in Memphis.

Syed highlighted that 18 million new businesses have been founded in the past few years, with the SBA playing a crucial role in providing access to financing, mentorship, and federal contracts. Syed shared that the SBA facilitated $372 million in loans in Tennessee last year, supporting small business owners with working capital, equipment, and real estate financing. He underscored the SBA’s commitment to democratizing access to capital, particularly through simplifying processes for smaller loans, which has resulted in a 47% increase in small-dollar lending.

Syed: “It’s very important that communities that have been historically underserved all have access to opportunity, funding, mentorship, and federal government contracts.” (Photo: Lee Eric Smith/Tri-State Defender)

“It’s very important that communities that have been historically underserved all have access to opportunity, funding, mentorship, and federal government contracts,” he said.

Syed also highlighted the importance of awareness about available resources, noting that many entrepreneurs are unaware of how to engage with the government and access funding.

“A lot of times people are looking for a $10,000 loan or $20,000 loan. We’ve simplified that process to drive more small-dollar lending that SBA can support.”

Syed mentioned that in Memphis, a majority Black city, there are only 1,518 Black-owned businesses with employees. He stressed the need for intentional policies to change this number, aiming for a future with significantly more Black-owned businesses thriving in the city. He also drew parallels to Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Massacre, underscoring the importance of overcoming historic barriers to support the growth of Black-owned businesses.

Local business leaders expressed their appreciation for the SBA’s efforts. Earnest Strickland, President and CEO of the Black Business Association of Memphis, highlighted the historical challenges Black entrepreneurs have faced.

Among the business leaders ready to help small businesses grow: Eric Terrell, regional SBA Director; Dr. Nashawn Branch of the TN Small Business Development Corporation; Zanderia Davidson, Memphis OBDC; Deputy SBA Administrator Diliwar Syed; Ernest Strickland of the Black Business Association of Memphis; and TN District SBA director David Glasgow TN District SBA Director.(Photo: Lee Eric Smith/Tri-State Defender)

“We’re running with injuries,” Strickland said. “Many of those entrepreneurs actually came from Memphis where they experienced yet another tragedy. It’s been a theme with Black people in this country for so many times.”

Strickland also mentioned the BBA’s “Succession Solutions” program, which reminds would be entrepreneurs that instead of starting a business from scratch, they can consider acquiring existing businesses.

“There are aging owners having succession challenges. And we have many Black-owned minority-owned entrepreneurs looking to start businesses,” Strickland said. “We’re really wanting to marry these two dynamics. We want to bridge that gap by allowing them to have the resources and tools to acquire companies instead of always having to start things.”

Dr. Nashawn Branch, Executive Director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC), emphasized the importance of teamwork and support for new businesses.

“If you are starting a business, you do not have the time, money, or the luxury of failure,” Branch said. “We strive to flatten that learning curve, where we have experienced entrepreneurs to help newer entrepreneurs succeed.”

Eric Terrell, Senior Area Manager with the Memphis SBA, discussed the critical role of federal certifications in helping local businesses expand.

“My job is to get you caught up on certifications for the SBA and how to market yourself to the federal government,” Terrell said. “Our job is to make sure that we keep the small business owners engaged with federal contracting.”

Syed concluded the event with a call for intentional policies to overcome historic barriers and support the growth of Black-owned businesses in Memphis.

“We need to change the number of Black-owned businesses with employees from 1,500 to hopefully 15,000,” he said, stressing the SBA’s ongoing commitment to fostering inclusive economic growth.

The event marked a significant step in the SBA’s efforts to support Memphis entrepreneurs, ensuring they have the resources and opportunities to thrive in an evolving economic landscape.

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