What We’ve Learned About the Orlando Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
In their own words, each of these founders and leaders shared their experiences and thoughts on the state of entrepreneurship for Black businesses in Orlando. Here’s what we’ve learned:
Lack of Accessible Resources
Beginning with the COVID pandemic, 50% of Black-owned businesses have closed due to lack of access to capital. This unprecedented event heavily challenged the entrepreneurs who were struggling to survive even before it began. This problem is due to the lack of accessible resources. The resources that are there (training, financing, mentoring, etc), it seems, are not marketed well. In other words, those who need them the most aren’t aware they exist. Some are especially hard to reach for early-stage entrepreneurs, many of which are balancing a full-time job and raising a family. There aren’t enough entrepreneurial support services available to them on their time.
Here’s a quote from one of the tour participants: “There’s so many things this world can benefit from that take hustle to get, but not everyone can do that - especially when they don’t have the time to (i.e. raising a family). In those early stages, you don’t have the guidance or the opportunity or time to get resources, you most likely will have a difficult time continuing on; having to choose between family, livelihood, and your business.” According to McKinsey, of the 20 percent of Black Americans that start businesses, only 4 percent survive the start-up stage.
Lack of Education & Connectivity
But having resources is only half the battle; education is the other. Even if you get funding, how do you manage it? If you don’t know the value of your business, then how can you effectively ask for the funding you need? The lack of financial literacy, especially in knowing how to value your company, was mentioned in multiple tours. Basic business knowledge is needed for many entrepreneurs to get off the ground. Some would find it helpful just to learn from a community of founders. Just that connection to someone who’s been through it, learning what they did, where others like you lie, and the problems they’re facing would be worthwhile. However, there’s a lack of connectivity in the ecosystem between entrepreneurial veterans, supporters, and current startups, that doesn’t provide the holistic education founders need.
“If you have a good village and team, you can make it past the early stage - but if you don’t, then that lack of education on basic business management can become an issue” - Tour Participant
Lack of Confidence
Beyond entrepreneurs knowing what they need, it seems not enough ask for it. There’s a lack of confidence from many Black entrepreneurs to ask for the capital they may need to grow. Without considering funding options, many entrepreneurs tend to bootstrap themselves, making do with what they have. This isn’t a problem of there being enough money, but a problem of there being enough diversity in founders who ask for it. If an investor is looking to give a viable startup $5 million, how would he know this Black-owned business needs it? Some Black-owned businesses truly could use the help, but don’t feel equipped nor included in the conversations about startup investments.
“Black entrepreneurs are taught not to ask for money, or get into debt. However, a non-Black entrepreneur has the confidence to ask anyone for the money they need to fund their dream, and do so unapologetically. Eventually the non-Black entrepreneur will hear a yes, while the Black entrepreneur will never get to a yes if they never ask.” - Tour Participant
Lack of Guidance
Finally, the entrepreneurial journey is tough when you're walking it alone. Too many entrepreneurs are going along the same paths as others before them, but wouldn't know it since there isn't a clear roadmap. Orlando is in need of an entrepreneurial journey roadmap for aspiring and new entrepreneurs. A clear, outlined path that describes the stages of building a business, what to do at each stage, who is a resource for what, and what difficulties founders may face. Along that roadmap, there should be "rest stops" for mental health. Every entrepreneur knows that mental health is a challenge when building a new business - how are we preventing that challenge for new entrepreneurs?
"Think about a baby in the incubator of a womb - their every need is anticipated. We don't do that in entrepreneurship incubators - it's usually reactive." - Tour Participant