The Black Chamber of Commerce has signed up 265 members statewide since launching in September 2020.
It’s founder and CEO Ayanna Khan says she created it to help small minority-owned businesses overcome disadvantages that leave many struggling to thrive.
“There are some businesses that are basically stuck because there have been several systemic barriers in place that have not allowed them the opportunities to get to the next level in business.” said Khan.
The Black Chamber’s latest effort to assist these businesses is called Enrich Delaware. Khan says it's a national curriculum created by the nonprofit Interise.
“They work with several chambers of commerce throughout the country so we’re bringing it here to Delaware to help grow a small business," said Khan.
The program has already been used in 85 other markets. Khan says this is a bit more focused than some of the other work the Chamber does, targeting 20 businesses for 7 months. Over the course of about 100 hours, they’ll spend time in classrooms learning and working with CEOs and mentoring groups to get tools they can use.
“The curriculum is awesome," said Khan. "We’re going to have three sessions on just business strategy assessment, setting state for growth. There's going to be 2 major CEOs mentoring groups, as well as live cases. There's going to be resources on getting what they need to grow. There's 3 sessions on that. The finance piece will be balancing cash flow and basically managing their bottomline, and on marketing and sales, how to build profitability in sales.”
The Black Chamber of Commerce hopes Enrich Delaware can build on work it’s already doing with minority-owned small businesses, such as Elite Feet in Middletown.
“We look at people's feet by using gait analysis. Looking at their arches, we measure people’s feet, both feet because all feet are not created equal. We basically choose the best shoes for the right you because all feet are not created equal, whether you're a walker, a runner, whether you're a nurse standing on your feet all day or a teacher,” said Elite Feet co-founder Jason Hunt.
Hunt and his wife have been in business for about 7 years, and joined the Black Chamber of Commerce when it launched nearly 2 years ago. Hunt says joining the Black Chamber has already paid dividends for them during the pandemic.
“The chamber has been very instrumental to us because they were helping us get money through the PPP's, through loans and grants that were afforded by the state. We love the black chamber. Miss Khan is doing a great job, an outstanding job. She is such an advocate,” said Hunt.
The Delaware Black Chamber says its partnership with Smartbiz and Customers Bank allowed it to help 84 businesses receive $360,765 in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans. The chamber also helped 115 businesses secure $1,177,337 million in Delaware relief grants as of March 20th.
But Khan says that work, and her advocacy are not just about helping the businesses themselves. It's also about helping them build the communities they’re in.
“It's very important for small businesses and black businesses to give back to the community because in underserved communities. There's a lack of resources. There may be crime or health disparities," said Khan. "They say the black dollar doesn't circulate in our communities; it only circulates in our communities for a short period of time versus other communities. So, it's important that these businesses give back help the youth, mentor, provide resources, supplies - whatever is needed to boost their community. That will build generational wealth.
And Hunt agrees when businesses like his thrive, they can then do more to give back to their communities
“I do a thing called 'Cuts for Kids.' Basically, we give out free bookbags and free haircuts and school supplies for kids in this area," said Hunt. "Obviously, people supported me and I'm able to do community events like that. We do a black history essay every year as well, and give out prizes. We're able to use the money that we get to do things that impact our community and hire people that look like us.”
The Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce is holding an open house July 19 for businesses interested in the Enrich Delaware program. Information on that is available at the chamber’s website. The deadline to apply for the program is August 22. It begins September 7.
This article was produced with support of a grant from the Delaware Community Foundation. For more information, visit delcf.org/journalism.