Growing a business is hard enough as it is. Between investor meetings, marketing campaigns, and sales initiatives, it can be too much for some. To make matters even more complex, trying to build a diverse company, which you should absolutely do, presents a number of twists and turns for budding startup founders. Fortunately, a few impressive minds at Techstars Startup Week Seattle decided to tackle the issue.
During a talk titled Growing Diverse Businesses in High Growth Clusters, a number of lenders and training providers based in the Seattle area talked about the importance of providing avenues to capital for underserved entrepreneurs. Panelists included:
- Kara Williams, Women and Minority Business Manager, Seattle City Light
- Heather Englebrecht, VP of Operations & Strategic Initiatives, Economic Development Council of Seattle & King County (EDC)
- Michael Verchot, Founding Director, UW’s Consulting & Business Development Center
- Che Wong, Business Development Specialist, Craft3
Panelists are members of Seattle Ascend 2020, a joint effort between JPMorgan Chase and the University of Washington Foster School of Business. Ascend 2020 promotes local support ecosystems for neighborhood-based businesses, inner-city and minority-owned businesses by linking business schools, business service-providing organizations and community development financial institutions (CDFIs). The initiative’s goal is to help 350 businesses across six cities increase revenue by an aggregate of $1 billion over the next three years.
In this talk, panelists gave a wide range of advice for entrepreneurs looking to build diverse businesses in highly saturated markets. Take a look at what they had to say below:
Network, Network, Network
You’ve probably been told time and time again that networking is the key to the success of your business. And while you might think that networking is only for the more well-established crew, building contacts can go a long way in helping you find diverse talent that can change the course of your company.
“Chances are someone you could network with has come across an organization that could help you,” said Englebrecht.
It can be easy to give up after a few ignored phone calls when you’re trying to network. However, according to one business manager, you’ve got to go all in if you want to grab someone’s attention.
“Business do not interact how they should. For small businesses, it's all about networking, you need to call me a lot, like a dog with a bone. It's the businesses that call me on a regular basis that I'm really focused on,” said Williams.
Hire the Right Team
With the right team, your company will be set up for success from the beginning. Unfortunately, for smaller companies, it can be difficult, as all the work is falling on the shoulders of the business owners.
“When you have a small business, they're mom and pop. They're doing all the work, which makes it really difficult to hire the right people,” said Verchot.
In this situation, it’s important to stay true to your goals and work towards building a diverse team. And if all else fails, the next piece of advice will give you a little leeway in finding that perfect candidate.
Obviously, businesses need capital. But if you want to build a diverse company, you’re going to need it more than most. After all, spending time finding the right candidate takes time, and time costs money.
“It's not just about education, it's specifically about how you get more money and customers to grow your business,” said Verchot. “Small shops and large shops need to be a little more considerate about what the world is asking. But with small shops, they need money to take a step in the right direction.”
Biding your time and bootstrapping is understandable. However, when those big contracts come knocking, the last thing you are going to want to do is fall back on old habits.
“Most businesses know when they need money. But often times, they only have a rough idea, and then they get a huge contract with the city and then they need money now,” said Wong.
Diversity is important, but you can’t build a diverse business without a business. You can hire all the diverse employees you want, but, as Verchot added, you have to remember:
“The lights have to be on.”
For more information about underserved entrepreneurs' access to capital, check out the infographic below, provided by Ascend 2020:
To get involved with Ascend 2020, visit here.
This article is part of a Startup Week content series brought to you by CHASE for BUSINESS. Startup Week is celebration of entrepreneurs in cities around the globe. CHASE for BUSINESS is everything a business needs in one place, from expert advice to valuable products and services. Find business news, stories, insights and expert tips all in one place at Chase.com/forbusiness.