|LIAACC President Phil Andrews|
Many small businesses owned by African-Americans and companies in general face difficulties getting loans, despite strong sales. They may face paperwork problems, insufficient accounts, lack of data, liens, unpaid debts or have owners with credit trouble. As a result, a good company may do badly when it comes to getting financing even from a willing lender. Now there’s a new source of help in overcoming these obstacles for minority-owned and other businesses seeking funding.
The Long Island African-American Chamber of Commerce (LIAACC) has used a portion of a grant to help small business owners to hire TMI & Partners, led by Alvin Hartley, to provide free counseling and assistance to African-American owned and other businesses in Nassau, Suffolk, Queens and Brooklyn to obtain funding.
The idea is to give them the help they need to resolve issues and bridge the funding gap that too often stands between small businesses and the funds they need to launch, survive and grow.
The program is being funded by a Community Navigator grant through the United States Small Business Administration to promote access to capital for small businesses. The initial grant went to the United States Black Chamber of Commerce with $120,000 going to LIAACC to power this new program over two years.
|Alvin Hartley Founder TMI & Partners|
Companies don’t need to be owned by African-Americans or be members of LIAACC, although the chamber is doing special outreach to those communities to let them know they can get free assistance from TMI through the grant.
“We outsourced to them to provide counseling services for small business, technical services for financing, access to capital for startups and established companies,” LIAACC President Phil Andrews said of this new resource. Phil Andrews was named the New York District Office of United States Small Business Administration's Small Business Champion for Downstate New York in 2019 for his advocacy of small and Black businesses.
Alvin Hartley founded TMI a decade ago after working in advertising and marketing for about 25 years, including serving as president of the National Alliance of Marketing Developers for New York State.
“One of the challenges for small business, especially minority business, was not infrastructure,” Hartley said. “They just weren’t qualifying and they didn’t know how to qualify to get funds.”
According to the U.S. Census’s 2020 Annual Business Survey, about 18.7% or 1.1 million of U.S. businesses are minority-owned.
“They are a rapidly growing segment of small businesses, increasing at a rate of 11%,” according to the 2021 Small Business Credit Survey by the U.S. Federal Reserve System. “Yet firms of color continue to face structural barriers in acquiring the capital, knowledge, and market access necessary for growth.”
The study found companies owned by people of color “tend to have weaker banking relationships” and “experience worse outcomes on credit applications.”
Hartley said banks and credit unions are an important, but not the only source of funding beyond friends and family. Companies also should be aware of other options, depending on their needs.
“We do a deep dive into finding funding solutions, because every company is different,” he said. “We’ve been successful in finding lenders and banks to help individuals qualify and understand the language and terms regarding what it takes to get access to and move money.”
The LIAACC program doesn’t just include a single session, but rather is tailored to each company, identifying and then helping solve obstacles to funding.
“It’s like going to the doctor. You can’t treat the business owner in one session. You need somebody to look at the root problems of the business,” Andrews said. “The business owners don’t have the time to assess themselves. They’re busy making money.”
LIAACC, which has about 400 members, hopes the program can help level the playing field for so many African-American companies held back by technical assistance issues. Nassau and Suffolk Counties are conducting a disparity study to determine whether minority and women-owned businesses are under-represented in government contracts.
“It’s everything from nuts to soup, trying to improve the businesses,” Andrews added. “The program gives us full rein to improve businesses There’s so much information out there, but somebody has to bring that information to the small business owners.”
Andrews said inequities worsened during the pandemic for many African-American owned companies. “During the pandemic, so many underserved communities were not getting service,” he said. “The SBA came up with a hub-and-spoke model to help.”
About 100 chambers of commerce nationwide applied for and obtained an initial $5 million grant with LIAACC as the only downstate New York chamber to receive funding for two years.
“Whether it’s getting prepared to access capital, having all their paperwork right or the need to set up a corporation, this is about bridging the gap,” Andrews said. “The program is going to be two phases, working with startups and to expand businesses that are up and running.”
He said the chamber wanted to find someone who could counsel a wide range of businesses, adding that TMI will help identify finance sources, get companies ready and assist them to apply for funds.
Hartley said in addition to banking and traditional funding, he helps companies obtain funds through factoring and purchase order financing. Through factoring, companies borrow against money they are owed. “They’re able to keep your cash flow going,” Hartley said.
With purchase order financing, a company can get money they need to fill orders. “You don’t have the money to pay the manufacturer. We set up a credit line with the manufacturer,” he said. “Now you don’t have to run around to get a loan.”
TMI’s assistance includes help in obtaining and qualifying for government contracts either as an MBWE or simply as a supplier. “Vendor enrollment is part of the process,” Andrews said. “With almost every government entity, you have to enroll in their portal. No government agency can pay you unless you’re enrolled as a vendor.”
Unpaid debt on the books, for instance, can lead to a rejection of funding. Companies may do best to clean that up. Low credit scores lead to rejection by banks, although they may not be an issue with other lending.
“Banks depend on credit scores,” Hartley said. “With private lending, depending on how much you’re asking for, credit scores may not be relevant. They look at what your company generates.”
Some companies may not have any corporate entity or corporate bank account. Hartley suggests business people set up an LLC, S or C corp rather than a sole proprietorship.
“When you ask for grants and funding, the institutions do a deep dive,” Hartley said. “There can be challenges. If individuals don’t fix that challenge, they may not qualify for that funding.”
He said helping companies get their paperwork in shape can help them qualify for funding that, otherwise, they wouldn’t get. “The funds are available for companies,” Hartley said. “But if you don’t understand the script, the game plan or how the game is played, you can’t get on the field or and you’re knocked down.”
Phil Andrews, President
Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce (LIAACC)
For help with the LIAACC program, contact Alvin Hartley, TMI & Partners, at (347) 234-5304, (917) 443-8573 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Long Island African-American Chamber of Commerce (LIAACC) is a leading supporter of small business owners in Nassau, Suffolk, Brooklyn and Queens for advocacy, access to capital, technical assistance and education. LIAACC also holds a variety of Business2Business networking events throughout the year.
About TMI & Partners
TMI & Partners, Ltd., founded and led by Alvin Hartley, is a business solutions company providing a wide range of services for minority-owned and companies in general. It assists in financing, branding and operations, finding and implementing, solutions for small businesses.
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