Ypsilanti business owners recently launched the Association of Businesses of Color (ABC), a business league open to all Washtenaw County business owners of color.
The group was started by Patton Doyle, owner of escape room Decode Ypsilanti; Brian Jones-Chance, a local real estate broker and co-founder of 734 Brewing; and Ylondia Portis, local advertising professional and founder of the marketing firm Brandhrt. All three business owners also sit on the boards of the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority (YDDA) and the Downtown Association of Ypsilanti .
Portis says that through their experiences on those boards, she and ABC's other co-founders see a lot of opportunities for local business owners of color, such as grant funding and other resources. But for varying reasons, they also see that those entrepreneurs aren't necessarily getting connected to those opportunities.
Jones-Chance says part of the problem for business owners of color is that they are used to feeling like they "exist on the margins."
"We're trying to chip away at all the reasons why that might be and get people more plugged in," he says.
That starts by creating a weekly online mixer where local business owners of color can connect with others like themselves, with the goal of then having those ABC members go out and get onto other boards, commissions, and civic groups.
"We want them to plug themselves in and grab a seat at the table," he says. "We want to get folks comfortable taking up space in those areas and creating positive changes in the county for minority businesses, but also the entire state."
Jones-Chance says ABC's first mixer, held on Zoom about eight weeks ago, only had four people in attendance. But the group has since grown, and the largest meeting hosted 14 or 15 participants. He says the best measure of success is the loyalty of the participants who make a point of showing up every week.
The group began with a focus on funding equity but has expanded its mission to include advocacy and education, though those pieces are still being worked out.
"Our pillars have really focused on advocacy, education, and data, because data is what is going to give us the influence and persuasion to help decision-makers make better decisions," Portis says. "Communication is also important, making sure there is a flow of information about opportunities across our membership."
Portis says the group is still exploring what it would mean to make advocacy a pillar of ABC's work. One example is a grant the group recently discussed that required a business to have 51% ownership by a minority, veteran, or a woman, with qualifications the group found confusing. Portis says ABC members discussed the fact that many businesses are owned 50/50 by two partners, so they wanted to advocate for changing the percentage and clarifying other confusing qualifications for that grant.
"That is one of the areas we need to dig into, to be a voice for business owners there," she says. "We're just starting to get our ducks in a row around advocacy."
Jones-Chance says as ABC's membership grows, he expects members' concerns to drive their advocacy priorities.
As for the educational aspect, Jones-Chance says he and the other ABC founders already knew about some grant opportunities through the YDDA, but the group is sharing other resources as well.
"It didn't take long, maybe our first or second meeting, to figure out there were a lot of other opportunities people are really missing out on, resources we, collectively, know about," he says. "Since we started, I personally have applied for two or three things I definitely would not have previously, things that weren't on my radar until they brought them to my attention."
He says the group plans to focus on financial education in the early stages of the business league. For instance, he notes that a grant for small businesses looking to produce personal protective equipment requires that small businesses have payroll reports on hand and financials in order.
"A lot of small businesses and especially businesses of color don't always have that stuff together and ready to go," he says. "A lot of folks missed out, and didn't have good relationships with bankers and missed out there, too. We've exposed a lot of educational areas where we can be helpful, but our initial focus will be on financials."
The group meets from 7:15-8 p.m. each Thursday. Those who would like to be added to ABC's mailing list and get the link to the weekly Zoom meeting may email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photo by Rickey Portis.