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The Diversity Gallery is one of the black-owned businesses that has partnered with Habitat for Neighborhood Business. Its owner is natural hairstylist and jewelry designer Leslie Christian-Wilson.

Housing for neighborhood businesses (HNB) helps minority-owned businesses achieve a new level of excellence. Since 2018, Program Director Gladys Smith has helped mentor, find resources, and secure funding for Black and Brown business owners in the City of St. Louis.

That year, the HNB decided to give the program more momentum and hired a full-time director for the mostly volunteer-based program. When Smith joined the team, there were only four contractors. Today, the program works with 50 entrepreneurs.

“At one time, we were St. Louis’ best-kept secret, and invested in minority-owned businesses in the city of St. Louis,” Smith said.

Smith says HNB meets its mentees where they are professionally. The program helps members connect with local experts who can help guide them on their entrepreneurial journey.

Everything the program offers is free for entrepreneurs, and they can be part of HNB for as long as they want. The program accepts minority-owned businesses that are established, struggling or new. Smith says it doesn’t matter because they’re ready to reach out.

HNB has open registration, and the only incentive is that the business must be in the city of St. Louis.

Saint Louis University (SLU) has been part of the Chaifetz School of Business since 2006 and was founded by alum Doug Brown. While traveling across the country for work, he noticed the lack of minority-owned businesses in black and brown communities.

Brown noticed the many disadvantages these communities faced due to the lack of businesses that reflected the community they were in and he swore to himself that once he retired he would start a program to help increase the number of successful black and brown businesses. He wanted to address the lack of economic cash and the wealth gap between colored communities versus the white community by helping blacks and browns become their own bosses.

AccordingDataaccording to the Lending Tree, America’s black population is 12.8%, but only 2.4% of American businesses are black-owned. However, 86.5% of American businesses are owned by a white person, even though white people make up a lower percentage of the American population which is 72%.

The report also shows that St. Louis has a total of 51,852 businesses, 3,112 of which are black-owned. This means that only 6% of businesses in St. Louis are black-owned. Meanwhile, the black population is 18%.

Brown decided to collaborate with his former SLU alumnus, current SLU colleagues, and the SLU administration to help bring HNB to life.

Over the past 16 years, HNB has been an important source of resources for many local minority-owned businesses. HNB has perfected its mentoring program by creating the Mentoring Forum. Ten entrepreneurs are placed in a group and paired with an expert. The Mentoring Forum meets monthly to network, receive advice and create mock business plans to develop their skills.

Smith said, “We’re here to help these businesses not just survive, but thrive.”

“We are here to help support their business and business needs. »

Travious Brooks, owner of Brooks Family Entertainment, has been a member of HNB since 2015 and says HNB has given him so much, connecting him to vital community members and local experts who would have been beyond his reach without Smith and HNB. . .

“It was truly a blessing,” Brooks said.

“Most of my training on how to own and run a business comes from HNB.

There were times when Brooks called Smith in the middle of the night with questions and concerns about her family business and said she was ready to help her through her confusion.

He credits HNB for helping him through many of the fires he experienced as a black male business owner. Brooks said, “If these blocks didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be a need for HNB.”

A 2021 analysis of theBrookings Institutionestimates that approximately 96% of black-owned businesses are sole proprietorships. A sole proprietor is an unincorporated business with one owner. It can be difficult for sole proprietors to raise capital, especially for black business owners.

Brooks helps coach and mentor new members of the organization. He wants to be what HNB was to him.

HNB offers its members access to Quickbooks and partners them with graduate business school students as consultants for their business ventures. Members receive marketing and financial advice. The organization gives members the same access as business school students.

HNB has a 50/50 grant program initiative, where members can receive up to $4,000 to help move their business forward. These funds can be used for hiring, equipment or marketing. Whatever the business, the grant money can be used for it.

“Our goal is to make a difference in underserved areas of the city where these black and brown businesses are located,” Smith said.

Smith is from the west end of the city of St. Louis and says she remembers her community having thriving black-owned businesses. Smith said, “It was all in the community and we want to help make it happen again.”

She hopes to bring more and keep more jobs in our community, HNB is here to address the lack of black and brown entrepreneurs, and Smith is here to make a difference because she is part of the solution by creating jobs in the community. To show our little black and brown children who they can become. Smith hopes the HNB model will be embedded across the country in underserved communities.

“We want people to see vibrant minority-owned businesses thrive and serve their community,” Smith said.

Ashley Winters is a reporter for Report for America