Black businesses leaders in Nevada discuss challenges to entrepreneurial growth
RENO, Nev. — Jon James, a Reno-based entrepreneur, has heard it on multiple occasions when his digital marketing firm was buttoning up a big deal with a larger company.
“After the due diligence and client testimonials, the final question in the board room was, ‘oh, by the way, there are other partners, right?’” James, managing partner of Ignited Results, said during a videoconference. “And what they mean is, ‘who are the white guys behind you?’”
James was one of the speakers who talked about his evolving experiences as a Black entrepreneur during the Black Business Forum, a virtual event hosted by the UNR Innevation Center on Aug 5.
For James, the national Black Lives Matter movement, rekindled after an unarmed George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May, has revealed that there needs to be more diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
“And it starts at the top, right in the board room,” James said. “We should have at least 50% of boardroom seats occupied by minorities. There are too many C-level positions that are not occupied by people of color.”
In 2018, Black people accounted for only 3.2% of senior leadership roles at large corporations, according to a study by the Center for Talent Innovation. Even more glaring, there are only three Black CEOs in the Fortune 500, according to a recent report by Business Insider.
“When you have a situation like that, you have a mentality at the top of the company that trickles down through the rest of the organization,” James continued. “That has an impact on how ads are run or how companies are connecting with the marketplace.”
LACK OF CAPITAL
The reality is Black startup founders have a hard road getting their companies off the ground. In fact, in 2018, only 1% of venture capital dollars went to Black entrepreneurs, according to a study conducted by Silicon Valley Bank. That same year, the number of Black decision-makers in venture capital dropped to 1%, according to tech-news outlet The Information.
Myisha Williams, cofounder and managing partner of MYS, a Las Vegas-based professional services firm, feels receiving venture capital is an especially big hurdle for Black founders to clear. Williams said the peer group she organized with high-profile Black CEOs have all expressed as much.
“Capital was probably the biggest issue facing us,” Williams said. “Trying to get traditional funding was nearly impossible. Even for folks that had receivables guaranteed from federal agencies, they were still unable to access capital to cover payroll to wait those receivables out.
“I think that is something that particularly hard for those in the African American community to obtain.”
Joe Randolph, director of Americas Enterprise Services Operations at Microsoft in Reno, said it’s important that companies drive “organic growth” of diversity in the workplace.
“Sometimes you see this mass hiring or initiatives to change and move the dial relatively quickly,” Randolph said. “I think there’s lack of focus on organic growth; meaning, you’re recruiting and hiring in the right places, whether it’s more gender diversity or people of color, etc.
“It’s really important to understand how we are creating an organization that looks like our customer-base.”
To that end, James pointed out that Black consumers spend more than $1 trillion on an annual basis, a statistic revealed in a recent Nielsen report.
He added: “There’s money in the community, but companies are still not advertising to that market in the right way, and that’s due to the lack of diversity at the top.”
MORE STEM PROGRAMS
To help cultivate more economic opportunities for Black entrepreneurs, Randolph said Black youth need more exposure to STEM-related programs to develop an understanding of the different careers they can choose from.
“We have basketball camps and football camps … how do we continue to create more STEM-relate camps, so they can start to understand the skills, the knowledge and the types of courses they need to pursue?” Randolph said. “It also provides them with mentors and people that look like them in these fields, so they can see themselves in those particular fields and careers.”
After all, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation and increased the demand for careers in technology, he added.
KaPreace Young, president of the Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society, and coordinator at UNR’s Center for Student Engagement, said it’s important to bridge that gap between a student’s education and their professional goals and aspirations.
“As an institution, it’s important we’re not just getting our Black students to graduation,” Young said. “It’s important that we’re showing we are investing in their future as well.
“It’s important that they understand that there are professionals in those areas, in those arenas, that they can look up to for an internship and mentorship that those students may not know they needed that can guide and sustain them throughout their education and professional careers.”
‘SEEN AND HEARD’
Pam Loveless, owner of Reno-based PKL Homes, said it’s important for Black business owners to only be seen, but also heard in order to keep the conversation going and bring more diverse voices to the table.
“I see so many people sit back and say, I don’t want to get involved, I’m too busy, it’s not going to matter anyway,” Loveless said. “It all matters. If you can express yourself with your family, you can express yourself as a business owner. Your words are important; how they are used is important.”
Added Randolph: “It’s about putting your voice in the room and being a part of that change and understanding how we work through some of these obstacles and barriers.”
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