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A new program looks to fund, support Utah’s Black female business owners

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sisters Angelique Gordon and Jasmine Gordon co-own A La Mode, a personal styling business and boutique on 900 South in Salt Lake City, Friday, June 12, 2020.

Motivated by their shared love for fashion, Jasmine and Angelique Gordon launched a personal styling business out of their living room in 2014. Six years later, the sisters now welcome customers to their Salt Lake City storefront.

Before starting A’la Mode, though, the two had no experience running a company.

"We didn’t really see a lot of options for funding,” Jasmine said. So, the sisters pooled their money and were mentored by a Salt Lake City restaurant owner.

If New Pattern Utah — a new resource dedicated to funding and supporting Black female business founders — existed when the Gordons were getting A' la Mode off the ground, Jasmine said it would’ve been helpful. They could’ve connected with founders of other clothing businesses, she said, and they might not have had to figure out as many steps on their own.

Nationally, Black women are starting businesses at a faster rate than any other demographic, according to American Express' 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. While the number of female-owned businesses overall grew 21% from 2014 to 2019, businesses owned by Black and African American women grew at a rate of 50%, the report shows.

But Black women face some of the greatest barriers to accessing funding, said Kimmy Paluch, managing partner of the business-mentoring firm Beta Boom, one of the organizations behind New Pattern Utah. Women receive roughly 2% of venture capital funding, and loans for Black founders are three times less likely to be approved than their white peers, according to the nonprofit Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

With New Pattern Utah, Paluch said they hope to not only keep these businesses from “falling through the cracks,” but also to help them thrive. This is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic, she said, when Black-owned businesses have shut down at twice the rate as their peers overall.

Paluch said the impetus for New Pattern Utah came after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. Leaders of Beta Boom, Womenpreneurs, Sorenson Impact Center and the Utah Black Chamber “came together and decided to do something."

“All of us don’t want this momentum to be lost,” she said. “So, we are intending for this to continue long after we make these first grantee announcements."

Getting a business started

More than 50 business owners have applied for a grant, worth up to $10,000, from New Pattern Utah as of Friday, and Paluch said officials plan to announce the first three to five recipients in October. The program is ongoing, and applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. In addition to funding, the grant also provides mentorship and networking possibilities.

Alyssha Dairsow is one of the people hoping to receive a grant. She started her nonprofit, Curly Me!, in 2015 specifically to “educate, empower and encourage” Black girls ages 5 to 14 “to be their best selves.”

Dairsow, who describes herself as an extrovert, said she has no problem asking questions and reaching out to new people — "it’s just who do you ask?”

She said it was tricky to connect with people throughout the state since she’s originally from New Jersey. And while she knew her nonprofit’s mission, she found it difficult to “put language to what I was trying to do” to get more people on board.

“It just helps when there’s someone who understands the culture, to help you get into different areas,” Dairsow said.

(Photo courtesy of Alyssha Dairsow) Alyssha Dairsow started the nonprofit Curly Me! to “educate, empower and encourage” Black girls ages 5 to 14 “to be their best selves.”

When Emma Houston started her event-planning business, Brighter Day Productions, in 2007, she thought she had to figure everything out on her own. She went online to learn how to create an LLC and file her company with the state, and she used her savings to get the business going.

“It never dawned on me to look for resources out in the community," she said.

Houston believes New Pattern Utah “is going to do leaps and bounds for women who want to get into business but don’t know how."

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Emma Houston, center in green dress, pictured in 2019. Houston started Brighter Day Productions in 2007.

Creating and owning her own business has been a “dream come true” for Melinda Anderson. After retiring as a flight attendant with Delta Air Lines, she started Casual Cuisine Caterers with inheritance money. She also studied culinary arts at Salt Lake Community College, worked for another catering business and attended workshops and programs to learn about finance and marketing as she got going.

“It has given me a lot of joy to know that I am capable to do this,” Anderson said, and she hopes her success shows her children and community members that they can do it, too.

(Photo courtesy of Melinda Anderson) Melinda Anderson started Casual Cuisine Caterers in Taylorsville after retiring as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines.

Black women ‘carve their own path’

The reason Black women are starting businesses at such a rapid rate is probably due to “a combination of things,” Paluch said, including innovation and necessity. “A lot of times, startups and founders leave opportunities, or aren’t given opportunities, and, therefore, they go and create them themselves."

Paluch pointed to the gender wage gap as an example. Nationally, Black women earn about 61.8 cents per dollar earned by white men, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Utah regularly has one of the largest gender wage gaps, and women overall in the Beehive State earn 70 cents per dollar earned by men.

If the market isn’t creating opportunities for women to advance and support their families, then they might choose to “carve their own path,” Paluch said. The trick is in getting the funding to that.

“When we look at the venture capital space, only 2.8% of capital goes to woman at all, and half a percent goes to Black female founders,” Paluch said. “Those numbers just can’t be justified by probability alone. It’s clear that there are systemic reasons why women aren’t given an equal playing field in order to access that capital.”

For instance, venture capitalists generally “ask men questions about the potential for gains and women about the potential for losses,” according to a 2017 article from Harvard Business Review. Plus, investors in this space tend to be white males, Paluch said.

New Pattern Utah can help to change that, she said, by supporting Black female founders as they develop their businesses.

“I know what the data is," Paluch said, “but I wouldn’t be in this field if I didn’t think there was hope and opportunity."

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.

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