For 20 years, Walt’s Flavor Crisp Chicken Express has served customers on Wilmington’s Lincoln Street. Owner Larry Fletcher says he was motivated to open his restaurant after years of working at different food chains. Despite his shop’s longevity, he says it wasn’t easy to open his own business.
“The finances, the availability of funds to start and also not only to start, but to maintain your business,” he said. “We don’t have the quote unquote hereditary funds or the networking of funds available to sustain you when going through the ups and downs of a business.”
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, minorities made up roughly 20% of companies in Delaware in 2022 — 10,000 of which were Black-owned businesses.
Fletcher says many of those business owners faced the same challenges accessing funding as he did. He blames a lack of resources and systemic issues in the overall economy, which he says was never intended for the Black communities. “There’s always a little discrimination within the economy, within the system,” Fletcher said.
He says he worked through those challenges by developing networking contacts and relationships in the community — but he thinks entrepreneurs need to do a better job sharing information and becoming more cohesive.
Unlike Fletcher, fellow Wilmington entrepreneur Abundance Child Xi-El believes the resources are there, but emerging business owners just have to be willing to do their own research and seek support.
“It’s just about reading, which is fundamental, like you’re responsible for your destiny. So if you want to, if you’re interested in funding outside of yourself, then you have to go look for it,” she said.
“A lot of times the grants and the loans that I come across are more for people who are minority business, women in business. There’s so many different things that we have access to just because we do have those titles as opposed to the stereotype that we don’t have access — we do have access. You just have to know the right people,” she said.
Xi-El is the owner of Drop Squad Kitchen, a vegan restaurant that opened in 2012. She experienced similar challenges as Fletcher in getting her restaurant going.
“I didn’t have a job. It was very depressing and it would make me anxious to be filling out applications or to even go to an interview,” she said. “And knowing that I have a felony, knowing that I didn’t finish college, I’m brown all over and I had dreads at the time…. all of those things put me at the start line but behind everybody else.”
She also agreed with Fletcher that the community’s entrepreneurial networks should be improved.
That’s where the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce hopes to play a role. The group formed in 2020 to help Black business owners grow while creating new opportunities for others.
“We make it a point to address disparity, to examine processes and policies that are in place that are not benefiting us,” said Ayanna Khan, DEBCC’s founding president.
Khan said Black business owners are still working to overcome systemic racism still baked into the American economy. “We live in a country where systems were put into place that, you know, just weren’t built for us, to benefit us,” she said.
In its founding amid the pandemic, DEBCC identified an underserved community in need of help accessing federal assistance for their small businesses.
Part of that effort was recognizing the disparity in how programs like the federal Paycheck Protection Program affected Black-owned businesses. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found Black-owned businesses were least likely to get PPP loans from small- and mid-sized banks, where they say some subjectivity was likely to influence who received the money.
The chamber is also working to provide financial literacy for Black business owners, as a gap in knowledge can also contribute to the divide in funding. Khan said many are unaware of the opportunities business owners can receive from the state if they’ve obtained their business license.
“First and foremost, there were people doing business in our state even for many years, that will have a city business license for the city that they’re in, but not the state business license,” she said. “Educating them on state business licenses required to get federal funds and also taxes. We’re seeing a lot of folks that didn’t have accounting software that were co-mingling funds.”
After recognizing these needs, Khan says DEBCC has developed several initiatives to aid individuals in need of guidance, which are also open to anyone.
“We connect entrepreneurs with stakeholders, with other large corporations,” she said. “We have a flagship program called Enrich Delaware, where we help minority business owners get the tools through an education, through a seven-month program. It’s a national curriculum, award-winning national curriculum with over 9000 alumni throughout the country.”
In addition to helping business owners in the community, DEBCC is also advocating for them before state lawmakers in Dover. As membership continues to grow, Khan said they hope to be an even more powerful voice to make a difference for their members before the General Assembly.
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