The year is 2000. Behind a heavy, string-filled Southern rap instrumental, you hear the emphatic yell: “Who run it?” Fast forward 21 years, and the equally emphatic answer is Black entrepreneurs!
From an emerging technology base to an established market for creatives and artists, Memphis is a haven for Black entrepreneurship and innovation. Named 2021’s Best City for Black-Owned Businesses, it’s poised for significant market growth as communities and families continue to build on its strong legacy.
Epicenter is at the forefront of this entrepreneurial emergence, making sure Memphis can maintain its “Best Of” status and position business owners to have the proper capital and resources necessary for sustainability and growth. The organization is building an entrepreneurial nexus that connects business owners to capital, education and training, and a myriad of other support services that will allow them to grow and establish generation wealth.
“Epicenter is really upfront about the inequities that exist, specifically in the Memphis market, and how Black entrepreneurs face huge barriers in comparison to white entrepreneurs,” says Kerri Malone, Epicenter’s Manager of Community Engagement.
Epicenter helps entrepreneurs overcome hurdles that complicate getting access to the necessary capital to push their businesses forward. This commitment is at the core of its work to provide mentorship, training and access to resources and networks.
Epicenter wants to see greater progression in inclusive economic development among Memphis’ largest demographic. And sometimes, you have to bring programming to the communities you want to serve. One of the largest hurdles for Black entrepreneurs specifically is access, so bringing programs to historic, often under-resourced and predominantly Black Memphis communities like Frayser and Whitehaven helps alleviate that gap.
“We have to be intentional in meeting our entrepreneurs where they are, both figuratively and literally,” says Anthony Young, Capital Executive-in-Residence at Epicenter.
Because there can be a lack of awareness, Anthony and his team offer one-on-one sessions that help entrepreneurs figure out where they are on the entrepreneurial continuum. “We help each business owner understand where they are, from ideation to implementation,” says Young. From there, Epicenter has a better understanding of how to help them grow. Its resources include providing talent, access to capital and continued access to a broader networking base.
More Money, More Opportunity
In Memphis, roughly 16% of early-stage capital goes to businesses with a Black founder; nationally, that number is around 2%. “Memphis is outperforming our peers, but, frankly, that still is not good enough,” says Young.
Improving these numbers is key to seeing entrepreneurs thrive, and Memphis has a cohort that builds capital funding to increase that 16% and provide more access to funding.
Epicenter has developed partnerships with the City of Memphis, Christian Brothers University, FedEx and Start Co. to create the 800 Initiative, which aims to help grow and scale Black-owned companies. Epicenter offers two other funds: the Friends and Family Fund and the Memphis Small Business Opportunity Loan Fund.
- The Friends and Family Fund provides non-dilutive investments, up to $20,000, to help entrepreneurs focus their capital on necessary equipment or services.
- The Memphis Small Business Opportunity Loan Fund — initially funded by Pinnacle Financial Partners, First Tennessee and Regions Bank — is a $15M loan specifically targeted toward improving capital access to minority- and women-owned businesses.
One of Epicenter’s newest programs and resources is based in one of the city’s oldest Black communities: Frayser. The Frayser Connect is a partnership with the RISE Foundation. This grant is designed to support small businesses in the Frayser community. It helps the Frayser Community Development Corporation allocate $1.3M in grants from the MassMutual Foundation. “We will be providing access and are going to find entrepreneurs that need to be connected to capital,” says Malone.
Whether through informational sessions or funding programs, the team at Epicenter wants to see every entrepreneur in the City of Memphis level up. This work is crucial to Epicenter’s mission because it understands that building stronger entrepreneurs means building stronger communities by laying the groundwork for future generations to obtain wealth.
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Epicenter and We Are Memphis.