Angela Crane-Jones CEO of Nashville Business Incubation Center Photo by Nashville Business Journal

By Ashley Benkarski

NASHVILLE, TN — Truist Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Truist Financial Corporation, provided a $1.25 million grant to Nashville Business Incubation Center (NBIC), a business development and accountability partner for small business owners in Middle Tennessee “with a focus on women, minorities, and veterans, through 360-degree business support, knowledgeable mentors, and a results-driven curriculum,” said NBIC’s CEO Angela Crane-Jones. The grant will also allow NBIC to expand operations to rural areas in Tennessee, Louisville, Kentucky, and Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama, she said.

Lynette Bell, Truist Foundation president, said, “We’re thrilled to support NBIC in the great work they are doing on the ground in Tennessee . . . At Truist, our focus is on providing pathways for historically underserved communities to help level the playing field so that all people are given equitable opportunities to thrive— and we believe this grant will support that aim.”

Speaking on the importance of investing in local small, minority-owned businesses Crane-Jones said, “The Nashville landscape is significantly dominated by small businesses with 60 percent of total businesses having less than 25 employees. In 2020, Nashville small businesses were not only hit by the pandemic, but also, the city was hit by a tornado, destroying more than 30 businesses in east Nashville alone. Small businesses are critical to the economic vitality of Nashville and we must continue to elevate and support them.” She remarked that nearly four out of every ten Davidson County residents are people of color and nearly 30,000 veterans live there. “These entrepreneurs are creating a tremendous number of businesses that power our community. Yet certain groups, like Black women, are falling behind in the revenue gap,” Crane-Jones said. “Many of these businesses lacked the resources to rebuild, and the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic made it challenging to decide if it was strategically wise to rebuild . . . This is where community matters. Government at all levels, from federal down to the city, offered loans and grants to help businesses retain employees and keep their doors open. Those opportunities, however, were only meaningful if you knew they existed and if you could navigate all the necessary requirements.” She continued, “With funding from the City of Nashville and the Mayor’s Office, for example, we helped more than 150 businesses create a ‘road map’ to pivot in the pandemic environment while also helping them acquire loans made available with the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan.”

Said Bell, “Only a few days after our launch in 2020, the world quickly had to reevaluate its perspectives and priorities because of the global pandemic and a long-overdue reckoning with racial inequity . . . Black-owned businesses are seven times less likely than white-owned businesses to obtain loans in their founding year, and they’re usually considerably smaller. A Black-owned business gets on average a third in startup capital in their first year than white-owned businesses. This financial gap grows wider for people of color who are also women, low-income, or in nonmetropolitan areas.”

Crane-Jones added that NBIC saw not only a surge in clientele but a significant shift in client demographics. “The number of Black women participating in our programs went from 30 percent to more than 75 percent. With Black women-led businesses earning on average about $24,000 compared to about $140,000 for other women entrepreneurs, it’s clear that there is a considerable need for more resources in the Black community,” she said.

Bell echoed those sentiments. “Small businesses are pillars of communities – in Nashville and beyond. Unfortunately, so many BIPOC- and women-owned businesses fail before they truly get to start. One study estimated that 8 out of 10 Black-owned businesses close within the first 18 months. If we could help all these businesses survive, we could generate not just community wealth, but a changing culture in which business owners are empowered to grow their businesses and be leaders in their communities,” she said. 

Bell said, “We know that solutions to level the playing field for small business aren’t one size fits all, and we trust that local communities know their needs best. We’re here to discuss, understand, and uplift those solutions in Nashville and local communities nationwide.”

“We’re opening more doors to tangible change for ethnically, racially diverse and women-owned small businesses by investing in the network of innovative solutions and organizations that support them . . .We aim to continue deeply embedding racial equity in our work and increase access to economic mobility and financial success,” Bell said.

Crane-Jones offered her view on the wealth gap faced by minority- and women-owned entrepreneurs, whose products and services help make Nashville a unique and tourist-driven city, saying, “Not just in Nashville, but nationwide, Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs, with 17 percent in the process of starting or running new businesses. However, historically, minority-owned firms have a much harder time accessing small business loans than their white counterparts because of perpetuating inequities, among other reasons. The difficulties many women and minority entrepreneurs face in accessing capital have no doubt contributed to the wealth gap that minority and women-owned businesses in Nashville are experiencing today. 

“At the same time, Nashville continues to be a top destination for people looking for a new place to live. Because so many of our new residents are bringing high incomes, this drives up the cost of living. People of color and women are often least prepared to adjust to the higher prices,” she continued, adding that a digital infrastructure and improving the financial health and education of clients were key to addressing the issue. “Digital infrastructure allows our clients to better market their goods and services, facilitate bookings and transactions, and collect payments that easily feed into a robust accounting system. From there, clients have a more accurate picture of the financial health of their business and can more easily access the capital necessary to shift the direction of their business,” she said.

NBIC offers a free assessment to help users determine where they are on their entrepreneurial path at NBIConline.com/BizQuiz. The quiz also helps decide if you qualify for any of the scholarships available for NBIC’s three “Mighty Oak Pathway’’ programs, Crane-Jones said. The first program, FOUNDATIONS, is offered for free and “helps entrepreneurs refine their basic business idea and get the necessary financial and legal structure necessary to get it off the ground,” Crane-Jones said. The others are aimed at established business owners and provide strategic opportunities to increase revenue and create more employment opportunities. 

“The support NBIC received from the Truist Foundation will contribute to the creation of our RISE UP Academy,” Crane-Jones added. “As part of expansion efforts funded by the Truist Foundation, we are beginning the process of connecting with community organizations. NBIC will hold a series of town halls and events to meet with entrepreneurs and learn more about their specific needs. We will then launch our RISE UP Academy and begin accepting applications later this year.” The Academy’s goal is to help women business leaders generate $1 million in yearly revenue and create at least five jobs. 

For more on NBIC or its programs, visit nbiconline.com or find the organization on social media (@mynbic).