Small businesses are an integral part of our economy, creating jobs, spurring innovation, and fostering community. In fact, small businesses represent 98 percent of all businesses in Franklin County. When it comes to establishing and growing a small business, however, not all entrepreneurs have equitable access to resources, including capital.
Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs have long faced systemic exclusion and disproportionate challenges in accessing capital. According to data compiled by Next Street—a national firm that mobilizes capital, customers, and capabilities to small businesses and entrepreneurs that have been systemically held back—White entrepreneurs attract 17 times more equity capital than Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, Black business owners are approved for financing at one-third the rate of White business owners.
Recognizing the importance of supporting diverse entrepreneurship, The Columbus Foundation partnered with Next Street to develop and implement its small business strategy, culminating in the creation of the Equitable Small Business Fund. Launched in 2022, the Equitable Small Business Fund is an effort to help close the racial wealth gap in the region by increasing access to capital and services for entrepreneurs of color. A committee of small business champions oversees the evaluation and decision making for investments.
“A more diverse small business ecosystem benefits us all, leading to more collaboration, innovation, and economic growth,” said Doug McCollough, CEO of Color Coded Labs and Chair of the Equitable Small Business Fund committee. “In order to unlock their full potential, it’s imperative that entrepreneurs of color have equitable access to the resources needed to build and accelerate their business.”
To date, the Equitable Small Business Fund has awarded more than $3 million in Program Related Investments (PRIs) to six Black-owned and Black-led businesses serving central Ohio. The six businesses are: Aventi Enterprises LLC, Embedded Services, Freedom Equity Inc., The Mezzanine Fund, Our Hospitality Group LLC, and Prospera Advisory Group.
Pictured: Anne Richie, Founder and Managing Director of The Mezzanine Fund. Photo courtesy of Anne Richie.
To Anne Richie, Founder and Managing Director of The Mezzanine Fund, the Equitable Small Business Fund represents an important shift in the way capital is deployed to diverse businesses.
“For me, it’s the investment in systems change. The accessibility, intentionality, and transparency of the Equitable Small Business Fund is huge for me,” explained Richie. “I’ve talked to a ton of nonprofits, for-profits, and investors, and the approach of The Columbus Foundation is very different. It is very targeted and very intentional.”