Media release

Recommendations will promote growth of and support for minority-owned businesses

The results reflect robust local business community engagement as well as best practices from around the nation

Commerce RI and the Rhode Island Foundation released the results of a $150,000 study that will guide the growth of and support for minority-owned businesses.

“Minority-owned business are a growing and crucial segment of the state’s business sector. This effort builds upon our long commitment to small business growth and jobs and to equity and inclusion as a key to economic success for all Rhode Islanders,” said Neil D. Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO.

According to study, the White population in Rhode Island declined by nearly 4% from 2010 to 2020, while the combined increase of all other ethnic groups increased by nearly 27 percent. In addition, BIPOC business participation in Rhode Island lags the national average. About 7.4% of the state’s 21,000 businesses have BIPOC owners. Nationally, 18.3% of all businesses with employees are BIPOC-owned, more than twice the rate for Rhode Island.

“The recommendations are based on robust business community engagement over a period of months that ensured community voices played a major role in the initiative. The goal was to engage existing organizations and new partners to expand outreach and support for minority businesses throughout Rhode Island. It will take a collaborative effort to take this to the next level,” said Steinberg.

Commerce RI, which initiated the effort and worked in partnership with the Foundation on the project, expects to include the recommendations as part of Governor McKee’s RI 2030 planning effort.

“Rhode Island’s small and minority businesses have been severely impacted in the COVID era. These businesses need our strong support as our state emerges from the pandemic,” said Commerce RI Secretary Stefan Pryor. “We are committed to renewed and strengthened partnerships that will enable enhanced support for minority-owned businesses in the near and long term.”

The study’s recommendations include:

CAPITAL | Develop new funding vehicles targeted to the needs of BIPOC-owned businesses.

• A new Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) focused on BIPOC-owned ventures

• New investment pools targeted to BIPOC-owned ventures

• Support for newer programs, such as crowdfunding platforms and BIPOC-led angel investor networks, to diversify funding sources available for Rhode Island-based entrepreneurs

WORKFORCE AND TALENT | Ensure that every Rhode Islander with entrepreneurial ambitions can get the training and coaching needed to start a new venture.

• Require entrepreneurship training for all K-12 students

• Expand entrepreneurship education options at community colleges

• Expand availability of self-employment assistance programs

BUSINESS ASSISTANCE | Increase availability and visibility of technical assistance programs for BIPOC business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.

• Provide business concierge and wayfinding support to BIPOC-owned businesses

• Create a new Business Builder Voucher program to help entrepreneurs access outside consulting assistance and support

• Create and sustain a statewide Minority Business Support Coalition

SPECIALIZED INFRASTRUCTURE | Provide increased access to specialized support efforts such as business incubators and co-working spaces.

• Locate new co-working spaces in neighborhoods and locations easily accessible to BIPOC residents

• Increase commercial kitchen and shared processing facilities

COMMUNITY CULTURE | Create local buzz and excitement about entrepreneurship.

• Expand availability of entrepreneurship education for all Rhode Islanders

• Support regular event series to learn and share ideas related to innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship

SUPPORTIVE REGULATION | Ensure “entrepreneur-friendly” state and local laws and regulations.

• Create small business ombudsman position to address small business concerns

• Improve training to local government staff on effective “entrepreneur-friendly” practices and programs

• Continue ongoing state-level regular reform efforts

MARKET ACCESS | Help BIPOC entrepreneurs gain access to new markets at home and abroad.

• Support a BIPOC Business Accelerator program, as also recommended in RI Commerce’s Rhode Island Innovates 2.0 plan to connect fast-growing BIPOC business to major corporate partners and customers

• Support reform of current MBE/WBE programs

• Develop a business succession program targeted to BIPOC residents and business owners

The study’s recommendations align with the Foundation’s suggestions for investing the state’s $1.1 billion share of unrestricted federal American Rescue Plan Act funding. Among the recommendations to state leaders contained in the Foundation’s “Make It Happen: Investing for Rhode Island’s Future” report is $100 million for small business, targeted to minority-owned businesses; through forgivable loans, low-interest loans and grants.

The process was informed by a steering committee comprised of Junior Jabbie, president and CEO of Banneker Supply Chain Solutions; Roby Luna, president of Aretec; Donna Sams, partner and senior consultant, Spencer Consulting Group; Keith Stokes, director of business and economic development for the city of Providence; and Vanessa Toledo-Vickers, vice president, community development market manager, Citizens Bank.

To see the full study, click here.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $98 million and awarded $76 million in grants last year. Through leadership, fundraising and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.