On Jan. 29, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman joined Ben Birge, Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. (AAEDC) CEO, to announce the launch of the county’s Inclusive Ventures Program (IVP). The goal of the IVP is to help small, minority, women and veteran owned businesses in Anne Arundel County by offering a variety of resources including education, mentorship and improved access to capital.

Business owners must apply to the IVP, which will limit the inaugural program to ten participants who will attend a three-hour class once a week for six weeks led by Will Holmes, a business consultant and recruiter for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business program. Each participant will receive a certificate of completion and a $5,000 grant to be used for working capital.

Participating businesses also receive exclusive, complimentary consultations with legal, human resources, and accounting experts.

Additional program partners have agreed to mentor participants for a small stipend. They include Johnetta Thurston, founder of JDA Management Consulting, who will serve as the human resources consultant; Carlos “CJ” Santos, an associate with the Nemphos Braue LLC law firm and a board member of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who will address legal issues; and LaKia Bourne, owner and CEO of Synergy Accounting Services, who serves as the program’s accounting consultant.

Stemming loss

“I’m thrilled that [participants] will be part of a group that takes classes together and I suspect will become very close to one another and continue to collaborate for years to come,” Pittman said, adding that the program aims to give minority business owners some advantages that are hard to acquire.

“The smaller you are, the more you need to know, because you don’t have the staff to do it for you,” he explained.

According to Birge, the program is a response to two chief concerns.

“Women and minority owned businesses [are faring] far worse in the pandemic,” he said. “And prior to the pandemic, many of these small businesses were already on tenuous footing.”

According to The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Business Owners, a 2020 report compiled by the Institute for Social Transformation at University of California Santa Cruz, 26 percent of Black-owned American businesses disappeared between February and May 2020. During the same timeframe, 19 percent of Latino-owned businesses were eliminated, and immigrant-owned businesses saw a 25 percent loss.

Both male and female business owners suffered similar losses, although the report notes that all groups had experienced partial rebounds after April.

Right tools

Historically, Birge said, women, minority, and veteran business owners have experienced systemic discrimination in many aspects of business creation, including effective business training, management experience, promotional opportunities, and access to capital.

According to a Federal Reserve survey, he said, 17 percent of these business owners said they would have to consider cutting costs, using personal funds, or closing permanently if faced with a two-month revenue loss.

“We believe [the IVP] speaks to our mission as an economic development organization to strengthen businesses in AA County,” Birge said.

According to Holmes, participants will better understand how to price products and services, reach target customers, hire and train the right staff, adhere to local, state and federal regulations, and prepare their financial standing in order to access capital.

“Our busines accelerators have all been very effective, and we expect the same with the IVP,” he said.

Growth Potential

In Pittman’s view, the IVP program is important because businesses, like home ownership, are a means to accumulating intergenerational wealth.

“Wealth accumulation among the minority population in Anne Arundel County has been far below that of white residents,” he said. “It’s also important for job opportunities because minority owned businesses tend to hire a higher percentage of minority employees and promote them. This is an essential part of dealing with the inequities we have in our county.”

Funding for the IVP program comes from AAEDC’s fund balance.

“We are going to be looking for outside revenue sources to make this program really grow,” Birge said.

Keasha Haythe, manager of AAEDC’s Minority Business Initiative, said government has a role to play in ensuring more opportunities for women and minority businesses, and encouraged economic development organizations, banks and other business serving partners across the state to invest in similar initiatives.

“This is definitely going to get the attention of businesses that are looking either to expand or relocate to [our] area, preferably from out of state,” she said.

“We’re hoping we’ll have enough applicants to do another round in either the third or fourth quarter this year, depending on funding,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll find partners who can provide some sponsorship and funding for the program so that we can continue to grow it and increase it each go round.”

Interested businesses should apply by visiting the Inclusive Ventures Program page on the AAEDC website, www.aaedc.org. The application period runs until 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 19.

By George Berkheimer | Senior Writer |The Business Monthly