“Finding a new normal”, is probably the most often used phrase of the last three months. I say it when I talk with my eight-year-old daughter about todays’ world, I say it when I talk with friends about what it means to reintegrate, and I hear it every day from businesses, colleagues, and as part of headlines in the constant news cycles. Part of “finding a new normal” for me was to engage with organizations and programs that are making a difference and enhancing the life of those that benefit from their services. A few years ago, I attended the kick off to a new program by the Tampa Bay Chamber, the Minority Business Accelerator. I did not know then that in a few short years I would be an avid advocate and serve as their Recruitment Task Force Chair with a focus on Latino/Hispanic owned businesses. The opportunity the MBA staff and volunteers have offered me is invaluable. My life has revolved around public service, I worked for non-profits during and post college and spent most of my professional career with the City of Tampa. As I continue to grow in my profession, I find it rewarding to use my knowledge and network to benefit those that need a little help to reach the next step in their journey to success and/or well-being. I would not be where I am today without the assistance, guidance and support of others that took the time to listen and believe in my ability to grow and contribute, so I seek out opportunities where I can do the same for others.
As I familiarized myself with the Minority Business Accelerator, and met the current cohort, I was amazed with their collective grit. When Covid-19 hit, many of them reinvented themselves, they pivoted, reimagined their business plans and never missed a step. Their mentors have been there every step of the way, facilitating meetings, offering advice, helping with Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) woes, just to name a few, but mostly offering a shoulder to lean on. In regards to PPP, a recent ABC news report shared that the Small Business Administration's Inspector General reviewed PPP at the request of Congress. Its findings are not surprising to many Latino and other minority owned businesses, it highlighted that socially or economically disadvantaged businesses were not prioritized, further stating: "Because SBA did not provide guidance to lenders about prioritizing borrowers in underserved and rural markets, these borrowers, including rural, minority and women-owned businesses may not have received the loans as intended". In general, this does not inspire confidence amongst minority owned businesses, since statistically speaking, black and brown business owners find it more challenging to get financing and can encounter other challenges as they attempt to grow their business.
That is why my focus has been connecting with Latino/Hispanic based organizations and groups to help disseminate information about the Minority Business Accelerator. The Latino elected officials in Tampa have received information and are actively sharing it with their constituent base. In addition, I had fun speaking to one of the local Latino radio stations on one of their podcasts about the program and have had great conversations with community leaders willing to help identify potential candidates. There are so many deserving small businesses out there and we hope we can reach them; the Tampa Bay Chamber has many resources and partnerships that will provide the boost needed to get through these challenging times.
A good friend, entrepreneur and small business owner uses the phrase “I’m hungry” to say that they are going to fight harder, work smarter, reach for all the resources available to them and rise to the top while bringing others along with them, because success is not a solitary achievement. That is what the Minority Business Accelerator is about, a community of successful individuals excited to lift up those that are hungry enough to leap into that next step of business growth and success.
Lorena R. Hardwick
Director of Government Relations