Mass. Black Expo aims to foster community for Black entrepreneurs

Mass begins on Friday. Black Expo, an event hosted by the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts that aims to bring together black business leaders and promote equity in business. Nicole Obi, President and CEO of BECMA, joined morning edition Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel will host the conference to discuss the conference and the state of corporate justice in the Commonwealth. This transcript has been edited lightly.

Jeremy Siegel: Tell us what’s going on today and this weekend.

Nicole Obi: So BCMA hosts our Mass. Black Expo 2022. Here we showcase truly Black-owned businesses and organizations, and our allies, who are helping us close the racial wealth gap in Massachusetts.

Paris Alston: And so this coincides with Boston Cannabis Week, which we’ve been talking about here every day this week. And I know there are a number of companies across different industries that you will all be highlighting at the show. But I’m curious with guys like Armani White from Mass. EON and Kobie Evans of Pure Oasis et al, how would you describe the current state of the cannabis industry and how black entrepreneurs fit into this industry?

Obi: We are pleased to present a panel on Friday on the justice and state of the cannabis industry, as BECMA has been working for several years and advocating for more justice in this area, especially given all the hurt and harm that has been done to the black community in the related to the illegal cannabis industry. So on our first day, we’re going to really go into detail about how black entrepreneurs can participate in this burgeoning industry and specifically talk about what the new legislation that has been passed has in store to be fairer and more open to opportunity for black entrepreneurs.

Seal: Take a step back and look more broadly across the industries here. You started your role at BECMA in January. Back then, you highlighted the policy and advocacy work needed to increase equity for black-owned businesses in Boston. You mentioned some obstacles to this earlier. What has happened since you took office in January and what still has to happen?

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Obi: The policy and advocacy work we do truly underpins our four pillars to help close the racial wealth gap—not just in Boston but across the state. So these pillars are ownership, entrepreneurship, placement and trading. And we are leading the way in delivering those efforts through our policy efforts, whether in the cannabis industry, which is more inclusive, in the emerging mass climate industry. We’re also pushing for equity and access, transparency in procurement, and other opportunities that we know are very important to Black business owners, as well as our community members who want to increase home ownership, to really get the support through legislation to get the actions they need.

Alston: So Nicole, we spoke to you here on GBH shortly after you started your role at BECMA. And then you talked about how black businesses play a critical role in closing the racial wealth gap, and that if Massachusetts could do that, the state economy would grow by $25 billion. Now I know that closing the racial wealth gap in Massachusetts cannot happen in a matter of months. But tell us a little about the progress that has been made on it.

Obi: We know that most black-owned businesses in Massachusetts are on the smaller end of the scale, meaning the majority make less than $1,000,000 in sales. And we also know that small businesses drive Massachusetts’ economy. So we are very focused on helping and supporting these businesses. We as part of a coalition, the Coalition for Equitable Economy and MassINC. publish a survey of 3,400 small businesses from across the Commonwealth. Five hundred of those respondents were black-owned businesses.

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And what we’ve found is that lack of access to capital remains the number one problem for black-owned companies. And so, at BECMA and the work we do, we are focused on really helping to open those doors, whether through our policy work or through the programming that we do with our partners. Even at our show, we will host three different events focused on access to capital. Some of the other things we learned from this new survey is that there are new growth opportunities that we want to make sure we support and capitalize on for our businesses.

“The lack of access to capital remains the number one problem for black-owned companies.”

-Nicole Obi, CEO of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA)

For example, we know that several — at a two-and-a-half-fold rate — white business owners will leave their businesses in the next five years. And that creates a growth opportunity for Black-led and Black-owned entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, as well as for the Black professionals who are currently in careers that are not fulfilling and are interested in starting their own businesses. They can perhaps achieve this through growth, through acquisitions. I am really looking forward to this.

Seal: Someone who is listening right now, a business owner or someone who wants to get into business and may have some of the equal opportunity barriers you mentioned, or who is looking for community, what are the next steps they can take? Where are they supposed to go?

Obi: Well, you should definitely come to our fair on Friday and Saturday this week. The Saturday session will be entirely virtual. Friday is held in person at the Boston Convention Center. And the reason we want people to come out is because it’s important not to try to tackle these systemic issues all by yourself. It’s better to be part of a collective and part of a collaborative effort that works on multiple fronts from a political perspective, from a supportive perspective and just being in a community of other business owners who have either been where you are or are where you are , and organizations that are there to support you. That’s why we truly encourage anyone interested in growing their business to start a business to get involved with BECMA and the other organizations we work with, just to make sure we know who you are, what you are need and support you.

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Alston: You know, Nicole, we’re seeing more and more organizations like yours — and I’m also thinking of Boston While Black, salute to Sheena Collier — bringing the best black business leaders and business leaders of the color of the state into these spaces and connecting with each other and in to be community. What does it mean to you to see this?

Obi: Sheena will be with us and we have invited several other black leaders as you mentioned. And I think it’s incredibly important. representation counts. You need to have key players in these decision-making roles applying pressure on multiple fronts. No organization will be able to do everything that needs to be done. We must work together. And I’m really proud to be part of a line of leaders working together in our respective fields to improve access, equity and opportunity.

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