Our Village United and The Village Market are expanding business mentoring into new cities

Twenty percent of small businesses fail in the first year, 30 percent in the second, and by year ten about 70 percent of small businesses are forced to close their doors, leaving shattered dreams, financial hardship and disappointment in their wake. For black entrepreneurs, the barriers to ownership tend to be more difficult and the likelihood of failure even greater. Knowing this, The Village Market (TVM) and Our Village United (OVU) are partnering with MasterCard to expand their ELEVATE program to new cities.

“The work of our Village United began in the midst of the pandemic, when the future of small businesses, especially small Black-owned businesses, was uncertain. As of 2020, we have had a tremendous impact on over 250 black-owned small businesses, and being able to scale our impact nationally is a dream come true,” said Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon, Founder and CEO of The Village “This program is an opportunity for black entrepreneurs to access the resources and finance they need to build sustainable businesses. I’m thrilled to be able to do this work with the support of a partner like Mastercard who understands the importance of investing in Black-Owned businesses and the role their success plays in advancing the Black community as a whole.”

The scalability of TVM and OVU was facilitated by the relationship with Mastercard. Rebecca Meeker, VP of Business Development at MC, first approached the Atlanta-based initiative in 2020 after learning about Hallmon’s work and its impact in Atlanta. Through a series of meetings, both virtual and in person, the two companies have structured a strategic partnership that has provided thought leadership and programs for Black entrepreneurs looking to grow and positioned Mastercard as a key player in economic mobility.

The financial services company is now the lead financier of Elevated Cities, which is slated to launch in 2023. Elevated Cities will impact Black-owned businesses in Atlanta, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New Orleans, New York City, Dayton, Birmingham, Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia and will help provide policies and practices that support these scale selected companies for growth. Hallmon says Village Market and Our Village United have been hyper-localized in their efforts, and national expansion has always been a goal. “We have a program that works, and we strive to support black entrepreneurs around the world,” Hallmon tells EBONY.

While the success rate for small businesses is staggering, the numbers for black entrepreneurs can feel bleak. Eight out of ten black-owned businesses fail within the first 18 months. According to Hallmon, this disparity is a signal that black business owners lack access to the resources and finance to lay a foundation for a sustainable and thriving business. That’s why one of the initiative’s top priorities has been to connect businesses with their first retail opportunity, including opening their first brick-and-mortar location and brokering partnership deals with major retailers like Target’s pro bono program.

“Building and nurturing ecosystems of diverse interests to support the growth and sustainability of black businesses is essential to black business growth,” Hallmon said. “The support should be holistic – focused on the whole entrepreneur, from well-being to resources and finances to relationships.”

The success of the ELEVATE program is undeniable. According to Hallmon, companies have reported a $2 million increase in revenue since participating in the ELEVATE program. She also notes that when respondents asked if their business operations would be strengthened by participating in the ELEVATE program, 92 percent of companies said they would. 34 percent of the companies have hired at least one employee. Approximately 78 percent have experienced an increase in their social media engagement since joining the program. A small percentage of companies have started applying for corporate certification (one for WBE, three for MBE and one for both.

Elevated Cities builds on OVU’s ELEVATE program, which provides sole proprietorships and micro-enterprises with comprehensive support through targeted capital grants, technical assistance, collaborative professional services and wellness support for the business owner.

Although access to finance is critical, Hallmon claims that one of the biggest challenges black entrepreneurs face as they grow their businesses is accessing the resources and technical support they need to start healthy businesses. “96 percent of black entrepreneurs are sole traders, which means they run their own businesses,” says Hallmon. “Entrepreneurs need back-office support, HR support, mentoring and other key support essential to building a solid foundation for a sustainable business. Our program connects Black entrepreneurs to these resources and a community dedicated to growing and developing their businesses.”

Companies selected for the Elevated Cities program participate in a 12-week incubator and gain access to $100,000 in funding opportunities, business development courses, mentoring programs, and professional and technical support services. OVU will also offer wellness support, led by licensed wellness coaches and mental health practitioners.

In the end, Hallmon says the most successful companies are led by owners who build and nurture diverse ecosystems to support growth and sustainability, have a clear understanding of their vision and goals, and have the courage to face the sometimes-tiring day -to- day Entrepreneurship-related events.

“I would encourage Black entrepreneurs to seek community, learn often, keep their aspirations and goals in mind, and believe fully in their ability to achieve their vision,” says Hallmon. She hopes the newest class of Elevated Cities entrepreneurs will promote this in the program and walk away with the tools needed for long-term success.

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