Marsha Willis joins the Facebook accelerator to empower the community of 30,000 black-owned businesses and supporters

MArsha Willis’ decades-long journey of supporting Kansas City-based black-owned businesses is being taken to the next level, thanks to a funding injection from Facebook and Willis’s own focused commitment to providing outstanding experiences to the online community she’s built.

“Our focus is to create a central place where we can share resources and education for underserved members of our community while helping to close the racial wealth gap,” said Willis, founder of the Black-Owned Businesses – Kansas City Facebook group in August 2012 and was recently added to the Facebook Community Accelerator Program.

Their strategy is simple: build wealth by targeting black-owned businesses.

The Facebook group itself was created after Willis opened her own beauty supply store and found she lacked a community of other black business owners to lean on, she recalled.

“I had to go to all these different places for business support — and they offered great service — but something was missing,” Willis noted. “I wanted a friend in business and support from people who are black and understand the unique struggles involved in starting or maintaining a black business. That’s what led me to start a community. Did I know it would be this big? Absolutely not.”

Black Owned Business-Kansas City is nearing 30,000 members, Willis said – recalling her initial excitement when the first 100 people joined the group.

“We could have easily reached over 100,000 members now, but we’re picky about who gets in; because I don’t want to be the biggest group out there, but I want to be the best group. I want to make sure we’re impactful and really supporting the Kansas City ecosystem,” Willis said, explaining that some Facebook users trying to join are outside of the KC area or are trying to spam the page.

Individuals don’t have to be black business owners to join the site, Willis added. Anyone interested in entrepreneurship and supporting Black-owned businesses by mentoring or purchasing their goods and services is encouraged to join.

click here to apply to join Black Owned Business-Kansas City.

Facebook Community Accelerator Program

The Facebook Community Accelerator program works to improve individuals’ skills and leverage Facebook tools to deepen community impact. Participants receive a tailored curriculum and personalized coaching to carry out an initiative of their choice. They also have the opportunity to network with other community leaders and key players in their industry.

Persistence pays off

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Willis recognized the significant impact the group was having on its members and decided to work full-time at Black Owned Business-Kansas City, she said.

“I started getting hordes of messages from people saying that group posting was the only way to make money,” Willis said. “I’ve started to focus on it full-time because I know we can accomplish a lot with this group and really be a resource for the community. I’ve been doing this for a decade, but I’d say I’m just getting started.”

With Black Owned Business-Kansas City connecting via Facebook, Facebook officials invited Willis to be part of official Facebook groups to receive feedback on how to improve the platform for those trying to make a difference in the community , she said.

Facebook announced in 2020 that it would launch a community accelerator program. Willis first applied in 2021 but was initially turned down, she recalled.

“So I applied again [in 2022] and even asked if there was an option to attend without incentives,” Willis said, noting that accepted participants receive grants of up to $40,000.

Facebook picked up Willis on Monday, October 24, along with 134 other community leaders around the world. Of the cohort, 33 individuals are from the United States.

Marsha Willis, Black-owned business, Kansas City

Black business ball

Through the Facebook Accelerator, participants like Willis are expected to launch an initiative that Facebook can help them achieve. Willis’ Efforts: Black Business Ball.

“It will be one Ultra Black Excellence Event,” Willis teased. “The goal of the ball is to hold an awards ceremony to uplift people in the community who are doing great things. It’s also going to be something really great for our people and an opportunity to look flying.”

The Black Business Ball is scheduled for Saturday, August 26, 2023 and will be part of a two-day event, Willis said. Black Owned Business-Kansas City plans to hold a Black Exposition on Friday, August 25, 2023 for the public to tour local businesses.

Because funding new initiatives is challenging, Willis hopes the Facebook accelerator’s $40,000 is just the start of more funding opportunities, she said – noting that she has submitted grant applications to help the black-owned business in Kansas to expand the city.

“My short-term plan is to host an education or acceleration program for black business owners in Kansas City and give a scholarship to anyone who goes through the program,” Willis shared. “In the longer term, like the next three to five years, I would like to have a business center where people can work 24/7. It will be a place of collaboration, education and breaking down barriers.”

This story is possible thanks to the support of Ewing Marion Kaufmann Foundationa private, nonpartisan foundation that works with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create unusual solutions and empower people to create their futures and thrive.

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