Melissa Bradley is the founder and director of Project 500. She agreed to answer a few questions after attending The Aspen Institute Forum on Latino Business Growth, a three-day convening held by the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program.
What impact can academia have on discussions about and solutions oriented towards Latino-owned business growth?
Academic institutions have a tremendous opportunity to support Latino-owned businesses. First, as the presence of Latino students increases and more schools have added entrepreneurship education to their respective curriculum, there is a chance to increase the pipeline of Latino business owners from undergraduate and graduate programs. Latino students can increase their likelihood of success if given appropriate supports on campus, including free training, subsidized space, and an environment that supports innovation.
Universities also have the opportunity to develop programs that create a competitive advantage, as millennials often desire to be engaged in social change and civic-minded initiatives. Since universities typically serve as anchor institutions in their communities, they can leverage intellectual, human and financial capital to assist Latino-owned businesses. Through formal programs, volunteer engagement opportunities for students, and class projects led by professors, universities can be actively engaged in the community in a sustained way.
Stanford is an example of an institution leveraging its space; human, intellectual, and research capacity to support the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative (SLEI). SLEI is a research initiative housed within Stanford Graduate School of Business that explores and expands knowledge of the Latino entrepreneurship segment in our economy through research, knowledge dissemination, and facilitated collaboration.
What’s at stake if we don’t develop solutions for scaling Latino-owned businesses? Why is this topic important for American prosperity?
Latinos account for more than half of the US population and are the new majority in California. Due to sheer numbers and economic potential, there is an economic and moral imperative to support the growth of Latino-owned businesses. Supporting these businesses will ensure the economic viability of the country and, more importantly, the major metropolitan areas where these businesses exist.
LOBs are and will continue to be significant job creators, tax revenue generators, and innovators. It is important to note that the success and contributions of Latino businesses are relevant for all Americans. The success of companies owned by Latinos is critical to the country’s long-term economic health, due to their rapid population growth. With 43 percent growth in size since 2007, LOBs are on track to leapfrog non-Latino-owned businesses. This means that our collective economic prosperity as a country is tied to the ability of all new majority citizens to have equitable access to opportunity – education, capital, and markets.
How will you move forward and implement what you learned from the forum in your own field of work?
Most local organizations are focused on the creation of new businesses which often fail in the first 18-24 months which creates a gap in support services for business owners. For this reason, Project 500 is committed to helping diverse businesses – owned by African Americans and Latinos – in the DC metropolitan area scale. This year, Project 500 is partnering with JP Morgan & Chase Co. as part of Ascend 2020. In partnership with the University of Washington Foster School of Business, Ascend 2020 is creating local support ecosystems for neighborhood-based businesses, inner-city businesses, and minority-owned businesses in Atlanta, the Bay Area, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. by linking business schools, business service-providing organizations and community development financial institutions (CDFIs). Over the next three years, their goal is to support 350 businesses across the six cities to increase revenue by $1 billion. As part of this six-city initiative, Ascend 2020 DC will be focused on the accelerated growth of minority-owned small businesses by extending entrepreneurial support systems to underserved entrepreneurs and neighborhoods in the region.
Ascend 2020 is focused on providing the entrepreneurs with access to management, markets and money; these same themes were prevalent at the forum. Over the next three years we hope to serve at least 100 businesses, provide access to a rigorous 9-week training curriculum, support pipeline access to supplier diversity programs and local investors, and provide access to at least $3M for participating businesses.
What did you learn from the forum that surprised you or challenged your previously held opinion?
I remain deeply grateful for the opportunity to participate in such a great and insightful event. The biggest surprise was that despite the diversity in gender, age, profession and sector representation of participants, we all achieved consensus on the critical inputs required for scale. We agreed that access to capital, mentorship and social capital are critical elements to grow Latino owned businesses – from investors, to entrepreneurs, to academics to corporate supplier diversity leaders.
I left the forum with quantitative and qualitative data points that I can use to continue to promote an understanding of how the success of the American Latino community and the success of this nation are deeply intertwined.
Finally, I remain engaged with several forum participants informally as we connect to develop strategies – such as financing tools and research – to help advance diverse entrepreneurs. I also am excited to continue to be part of an active access to capital working group that will continue its work looking at policies and financial tools to increase access to capital for all marginalized communities, especially Latino entrepreneurs.
We’ve seen how important it is to promote understanding of how the success of the American Latino community, and the success of this nation, are deeply intertwined. One way is through Latino economic advancement. How do you maintain momentum in promoting this understanding?
I have the privilege of serving as Director of Project 500, a public-private partnership to support African American and Latino businesses in the DC metropolitan area. Through this work I promote access to training and capital for LOBs. Created in 2016, we have trained a cohort of 100 entrepreneurs from the region across diverse sectors – from construction to technology. Our work focuses on scale to increase revenue and job creation of diverse entrepreneurs as their success creates a positive impact on the regional economy. After our first year of training, we maintained an 86 percent retention rate of businesses, increased profitability by 39 percent, increased job creation by 12 percent and increased access to investment of over $160,000. These early results reinforce two important points about LOBs for investors and policy makers:
- There is a positive return on investment in investing in Latino owned businesses.
- The success of Latino owned businesses helps expand the entire region for all residents.
This is the sixth in a series of posts on the Aspen Institute Forum on Latino Owned Business Growth. Participants from local and national economic and enterprise development and support organizations, Latino business owners, financial institutions, philanthropy, government and academia will share their perspectives on the challenges and solutions to scaling Latino owned businesses.