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The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Minority-Owned Business [+ Expert Tips]

COVID-19 presented more challenges than one for businesses, and the pandemic took an even more tremendous toll on minority business owners.

With minority business owners experiencing a cash crunch, not many could secure loans to keep their doors open.

In 2020, 400,000 small businesses decided to permanently close due to the effects of the pandemic — many of which were in underserved communities. Whether you’re in the idea phase or already established, this guide will help you get your minority-owned business off the ground.

Before you dive into this guide, check out this blog on how to start a business if you’re still in the idea phase.

When you finish reading this piece, you’ll have everything you need (and more) to thrive as a minority business owner — from how to get certified as a minority-owned business, to funding options and growth resources.

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Get Certified as a Minority-Owned Business

After you’ve nailed down your business idea, plan, and registered your company, it’s time to get certified as a minority-owned business. This certification isn’t required, but it will help inform consumers and potential partners about your company’s leadership.

You may also need this certification may also if you want to apply for government-funded minority business grants and loans, or other programs.

Illinois, Ohio, California, and New York have local agencies to get certified as a minority-owned business on a state level. There are various ways to get certified from local state and business agencies, so it might be best to consult them directly based on where your business is registered.

Here are a few other high-level agencies to consider getting a minority-owned business certification from:

  • The National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC): Headquartered in New York, NMSDC manages 22 regional affiliate councils around the U.S. NMSDC offers minority-owned business certifications and business development programs. The council has a network of more than 1,750 corporate members and has matched more than 12,000 minority-owned businesses with these member corporations. The certification process includes an online application, fee, interview, and site visit upon approval.
  • The Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program: The federal government committed to awarding five percent of all federal contracting dollars to small disadvantaged businesses with an 8(a) designation each year. This is an SBA-specific minority-owned business certification needed if your company plans to compete better for federal government contracts.

These same organizations and agencies may offer women-owned and LGBTQ-owned business certifications, as well.

Apply for Minority Business Grants

Minority founders often start bootstrapped, launch crowdfunding campaigns, or even try and raise initial funding through family and friends.

You can take various routes to fund your startup, but if you’re on your own when it comes to financing, seeking grant funding is a great start. Grants.gov distributes more than 1,000 small business grants for an open search, and this is where all federal government agencies post their grant opportunities.

Here are a few business grant opportunities for minority founders:

  • The Coalition to Back Black Businesses Fund: This initiative was created to aid small Black businesses struggling through the pandemic. The coalition is awarding 300 grants amounting to $5,000 each.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): This agency runs the Rural Business Development Grant Program for businesses operating in rural areas, with a population under 50,000 residents. The program offers grants to minority small businesses ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.
  • Rebuild the Block (RTB): As part of its Small Business Relief Fund, RTB award 15 grants monthly to Black business owners affected by the pandemic. There isn’t a specific monetary value on each grant, and freelancers and other creatives are encouraged to apply.
  • First Nations Development Institute (FNDI): Deadlines and opportunities vary, but this nonprofit provides financial and technical support to Native American organizations. FNDI has provided 2,150 grants totaling $43 million to Native projects across 40 stages and regions.
  • The National Black MBA Association: Since 2017, the association has been hosting the Scale-Up Pitch Competition, which awards grants ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 to Black business owners. Someone from the company must be a member of the association to apply for this opportunity.
  • Asian Women Giving Circle (AWGC): This grant is exclusive for Asian American women-owned businesses. AWGC awarded 11 grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 each in 2020, and this year, the maximum grant amount is $15,000.
  • SoGal Foundation: This rolling program awards $5,000 and $10,000 to Black women founders and Black nonbinary entrepreneurs.
  • FedEx: Each year, FedEx hosts a nationwide Small Business Grant Contest, and while it’s not exclusively for minority small businesses, many of the past winners have been minority founders. Winners receive grants ranging from $15,000 to $50,000, plus funds for FedEx printing services.

If you’re looking for more opportunities, Please Assist Me Co-founder and CEO Stephanie Cummings suggests subscribing to newsletters distributed by 1863 Ventures and Backstage Capital.

Each organization sends out a monthly newsletter loaded with updated grant and funding opportunities specifically for minority founders.

Apply for Minority Business Loans

Another financing option could be applying for loans. Historically, minority founders have struggled to secure business loans due to credit inequality and discrimination, but there are still reasonable loan options out there.

Here are a few business loan opportunities for minority founders:

  • Accompany Capital: Looking to support immigrants, refugees, and women entrepreneurs specifically, Accompany Capital offers microloans of $500 to $50,000 with repayment terms ranging from six months to three years.
  • U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA): SBA manages a few loan opportunities, including its Microloan Program and Community Advantage Loan Program. Open to all small businesses, the Microloan Program offers loans up to $50,000 with loans averaging $13,000 each. For the Community Advantage Loan Program, SBA encourages community lenders, mainly nonprofit financial entities, to make loans up to $250,000 to minorities, women, veterans, and other underserved founders.
  • Business Consortium Fund: Offered to NMSDC certified businesses, the fund offers loans and lines of credit ranging from $250,000 to $750,000 with repayments terms of up to five years.
  • USDA: As part of its Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program, USDA offers up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to local banks and direct lenders operating in rural areas with a population under 50,000 residents. Minority businesses can also directly apply for a USDA loan, ranging from $200,000 to $5 million with a maximum cap of $10 million.

Tap into Additional Minority Programs and Resources

Even if you may think you have it all figured out, a little extra guidance wouldn’t hurt.

Here are ten accelerators, startup programs, and other resources for minority founders:

  • The Visible Hands fellowship runs a 14-week virtual program to provide company-building services and investments up to $200,000 to underrepresented entrepreneurs. The inaugural cohort will welcome more than 30 fellows.
  • Dedicated to diversity in tech, Black Founders provides programs and hosts events for Black tech entrepreneurs.
  • Operation HOPE runs an eight-week entrepreneurial training program designed to help entrepreneurs in low-income communities.
  • SBA’s Business Development program helps minority business owners better qualify for SBA loans. Your company must be registered as a small business with SBA to participate.
  • The Minority Business Development Agency, an agency within the U.S.Department of Commerce, was created to provide greater access to capital and resources to minority founders. The agency manages business centers across the nation and hosts business development programs.
  • 1863 Ventures–a business development organization working to promote people of color, women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, veterans, and physically disabled business owners–runs two accelerator programs. Its Pipeline program is for pre-growth stage companies, and its Acceler8 program is for growth to scale stage businesses.  
  • Y Combinator’s Startup Library includes a wealth of resources spanning 15 years.
  • The National Minority Business Council provides minority business owners with educational opportunities, entrepreneurial boot camps, seminars, business assistance, and more. Membership is encouraged.
  • The U.S. Minority Chamber of Congress is a nonprofit advocating for small business rights. The organization has chapters across the U.S. that host networking events and offer local entrepreneurial resources.
  • Founder Institute put together the Black American Startup Resource List filled with 742 resources for idea-stage entrepreneurs. If you’re looking for accelerators, investors, or even events, this list is a great place to start.

Indulge in Motivational Tips from Other Minority Founders

Starting a business from scratch is hard, but doing so as a minority may pose more challenges.

Many disparities get in the way for minority business owners, but hopefully, these opportunities and resources will ease some hassles. While starting a minority-owned business may be the same as starting any other company, there are a few extra things you can do — like getting certified — to tap into some unique opportunities made just for minorities.

I reached out to some minority business owners who have done the hard work and are still striving to grow their ventures. Here are some tips if you’re feeling discouraged:

  • “Understand that starting a busy is hard, and it’s 10X harder for minority founders. If you are committed to your dream, work hard, dig in and let your work speak for itself.” — Stephanie Cummings, co-founder and CEO of Please Assist Me.
  • “Just do it — one of my favorite slogans. As minorities, we often don’t see similar faces on the cover of Forbes or elsewhere. This is slowly changing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. What matters at the end of the day is if your business is actually helping others.”  — Nhon Ma, co-founder and CEO of Numerade.
  • “Don’t get too attached to ideas. Spend your time getting attached to your values, and know what you stand for as a person — your values will be your guiding light, not the ideas.” — Ronnie Kwesi Coleman, co-founder and CEO of Meaningful Gigs.
  • “Leverage your networks to build brand awareness organically, but don’t forget who helped you get there once you get some momentum.” — Leela Bhatia-Newman and Mariana Magala, co-founders of DistrictlyLocal.

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