Growing Pains

Second-stage startups face unique hurdles.
illustration by Tony Healey
Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.

 

Women and people of color remain seriously under-represented in Greater New Orleans’ entrepreneurial landscape, although there have been some gains in recent years. Further, so-called disadvantaged businesses earn a fraction of the receipts enjoyed by white-owned businesses. Minority- and women-owned businesses also have an average net worth of less than 10 percent of their white-owned counterparts.

Organizations such as LaunchNOLA now provide services for women and minority-owned start-ups, while New Orleans city government – particularly through the New Orleans Business Alliance – is increasingly working to help existing DBAs scale up.

However, according to the Good Work Network (GWN) “there is a dearth of resources aimed at those businesses that have started and are struggling to grow.”

Since it was founded in 2001, Good Work Network has provided resources to minority- and women-owned businesses within 15 parishes in Southeast Louisiana, serving more than 2,100 women and minority-owned businesses and helping to generate or sustain close to 7,000 jobs.

The problem, according the GWN Executive Director Hermione Malone, is that “in creating a continuum for entrepreneurs of color, there is a gap. There is a lot of focus on startups and on scaling up, but for those squarely in the middle, there are not a lot of resources.”

To assist second-stage entrepreneurs as they work to achieve the stability they need before considering further growth, GWN is developing new programming to address what it defines as “the three most well-documented and critical ingredients for small business growth: contacts, contracts and capital.”

Existing GWN programs focus on areas like connecting businesses to contract opportunities and assisting them with the RFP process, along with business-mentoring services and educational programming related to business strategy and management. Malone said focus areas will be further refined to meet the needs of entrepreneurs in the sustainability stage.

GWN also works with its clients to help them become qualified to obtain the capital they need for sustainability and growth. This aspect of the organization’s services will very much be woven into the programming.

The organization recently received a $300,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation and plans to use it to focus on networking and collaboration. “The Chambers of Commerce do good business-to-business relationship-building on a larger scale,” said Malone, “but we will be working with our clients to build networks among themselves. We will also be increasing entrepreneurs’ knowledge around business collaborations and joint ventures. Together, businesses can take advantage of opportunities that individually they are too small to access.”

Another way GWN is seeking to expand opportunities for its clients is by diversifying the sectors occupied by women and minority businesses.

“There are a lot of folks in professional services, skilled trades and contract services, but the growth opportunities are not necessarily in those fields,” said Malone. “A key growth strategy is to get people from where they are to where the opportunities are, and help them add a complementary service or product.”

This approach has the added advantage of reducing competition within fields where minority businesses have historically had a strong presence.

With its strong existing programs and track record of success, GWN is ideally positioned to help its clients reach a stability level that is a vital prerequisite to taking the next step. In turn, the entire Greater New Orleans economy benefits. Business strength across all sectors and demographics translates into greater overall capacity, creating opportunities for all businesses to compete regionally and nationally.

While it may be challenging for a small, local business to see opportunity on this scale, the success stories of the future will increasingly be much less tied to geography. The vision of organizations like Good Work Network, in its work to bridge the gaps of inequity and capacity, will lead to sustainable prosperity for business owners of all backgrounds.

 


 

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