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'Inclusivity Challenge' To Help Minority-Owned Businesses Recover

Tim Mossholder
The Iowa SBDC launched the Inclusivity Challenge to help uplift minority business owners and entrepreneurs, especially as the economy tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Iowa Small Business Development Center (SBDC) launched its Inclusivity Challenge to ensure minority business owners and entrepreneurs continue to be prosperous as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Its goal is to connect those underrepresented businesses with resources and networks.

Iowa's state director for America's SBDC Lisa Shimkat said it’s important to be proactive in helping businesses that are closing at a higher rate nationally. A study by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research found the number of minority business owners who dropped out of the business world was much higher than the number of white business owners.

It found "African-American businesses were hit especially hard experiencing a 41 percent drop. Latinx business owners fell by 32 percent, and Asian business owners dropped by 26 percent," from Feb. to April of 2020.

“And so, you know, we could form a committee, we could sit around and talk about it, but instead, let's just get out in front of this, make decisions and make it happen," Shimkat said. “There's no rules to how to successfully come out of a pandemic, there's no rules as to how we need to do the next steps in our business. So why don't we get out in front of this and define it? That's what we wanted to do.”

The kickoff event is this Wednesday, July 14 at the Iowa Central Community College campus. It will host programming with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Shimkat said the national group can help fill some of the gaps in access Iowa businesses see.

"What we want to do in a sense is recommitting to all entrepreneurs within the state and showing them here's the paths, here are the opportunities that are available. And here's something that we can do to help you," Shimkat explained.

She added some common barriers underrepresented businesses see are related to financing options and networking. Something many businesses are learning is how the market has changed since the beginning of the pandemic.

The U.S. SBA reports in 2020 there were 11,843 self-employed minorities in Iowa. It reports African American males have the lowest rate of self-employment. It found the first half of 2020 saw a loss of an estimated 15 million net jobs in the state.

According to the Iowa SBDC press release, "The Inclusivity Challenge provides resources including customized, culturally relevant business and financial advising, business education webinars, and access to the most well-connected small business networks so that underserved entrepreneurs can navigate the path of small business success."

There are 15 America's SBDC assistance centers in Iowa which offer free business counseling, among other resources and services. Shimkat said the idea of the Inclusivity Challenge began in California. SBDC Iowa will work to make it more specific to business owners and entrepreneurs in the state.

"Are we doing everything right? Maybe, maybe not. But I think this is a step in the right direction. And we're going to get there. But we're going to get there more quickly because we focus on the inclusivity," Shimkat said.

She said institutional change doesn't depend on one organization or group, rather multiple organizations and groups joining to achieve a common goal. And that's something organizers hope the Inclusivity Challenge will foster.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines