When Karla Trotman was growing up, she watched her parents, Jim and Sheila Wallace, develop their business, Electro Soft Incorporated, from the family kitchen to become the largest Black American electronics contract manufacturing and engineering firm in the United States.
And in 2020, after spearheading various marketing initiatives for Electro Soft, Trotman purchased the suburban Philadelphia-based business from her father. But one month later Trotman was faced with a challenge more significant than taking the helm of a company. Like other small business owners, Trotman had to consider how to operate her business amid a global pandemic. She knew she needed business development support. Trotman was accepted into the Entrepreneurs Access Network, a program launched by Ernst & Young targeting Black and Latino business owners.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Trotman told Finurah. “EAN allowed me to ask why not me?”
In the United States alone, an estimated 29.7 percent of small businesses shuttered in 2020, according to Track the Recovery, an initiative launched by Brown and Harvard universities. And while support from the Small Business Administration has provided financial assistance to many small businesses and independent contractors, more help is needed as the disparity gap between white and minority owned-businesses is growing.
The 12-month program provided Trotman with the resources and tools necessary to navigate many of the challenges related to the pandemic — employees who needed to care for young children, supply chain shortages, and even the Great Resignation — with greater clarity and support.
“People often start a business and don’t realize there are educational components you need,” Nit Reeder, executive director of the EAN, told Finurah. “We have to begin assessing the right leadership model and understanding the business of our business.”
By the end of the program, Trotman received support in getting the Employee Retention Credit for her company. She was also able to receive mentorship and networking opportunities that enhanced the growth of Electro Soft.
“No other organization that I’ve been a part of took the care to bring together a diverse group of entrepreneurs in this way,” Trotman told Finurah. “This was was a synergistic moment in the way we connected with other entrepreneurs.”
Like Trotman, other participants found support and success as well. Program officials initially set a goal of helping entrepreneurs gain at least $1 million in funding. However, during the first year, EAN was able to help participants have access to $16.5 million in financing by aligning them with capital funding resources, Reeder told Finurah.
For Reeder, providing business support will enhance Black Americans’ ability to access generational wealth.
“We know that Black- and Latino-owned businesses have been underestimated and underrepresented,” Reeder told Finurah. “For diverse-owned businesses to truly scale, they need individuals and institutions with influence to provide access.”
According to Ernst & Young, minority-owned companies are responsible for creating an estimated 4.7 million jobs, helping the United States economy continue to grow. In addition, minority-owned businesses are accountable for an estimated $700 billion in annual revenue. However, many Black and Latino-run enterprises are not receiving the support necessary to build companies that can be passed on from one generation to the next.
By providing access to resources and tools such as coaching and mentoring opportunities along with access to funding, Black and Latino entrepreneurs will have the chance to contribute to closing the wealth gap.
“No one is aksing for a handout,” Reeder told Finurah. “It’s a handshake for the opportunity.”