I don’t know about you, but hand lotion has made it to the top of the list of things to grab, right after my phone and wallet, when I leave the house. The fall, winter, and let’s face it, part of MN spring, requires having a little moisturizer. Recently, I’ve been turning heads at community meetings and trainings because of this amazing and very scented Lemon Pound Cake body butter I’ve been using by Nature’s Syrup. You’re probably wondering why in the world I’m talking about body butter… is this not the Phillips Foundation’s blog page? Yes. You are in fact in the right place, and I promise it all relates.
I got this body butter a few weeks ago at ConnectUp! MN, an event held at the Radisson Blu in downtown Minneapolis. Susan Hammel, CEO of Cogent Consulting, Elaine Rasmussen, aka mastermind behind ConnectUp! MN and CEO of Social Impact Strategies Group, and her powerful team, worked hard to put on this summit, which drew just about 150 people all asking themselves how to bridge “the 180 degrees of separation between local investors and entrepreneurs from marginalized communities.”
Whether folks were coming to the table as an entrepreneur ready to take their idea or product to the next level, as an investor on the lookout for a great investment opportunity or an ecosystem player, someone like me representing a Foundation that supports changes required to set the conditions necessary for increased entrepreneurial activity, ConnectUp! MN had a way to make everyone feel like they had an important role to play.
So, let me back up a minute and give some context.
As you may know, the Foundation has spent the last few years thinking about how to use its resources to build a vibrant small business and entrepreneurship ecosystem in North Minneapolis. From the very beginning, in conversations with Northside entrepreneurs and microbusiness owners, access to capital emerged as a top priority. Story after story highlighted the gaps in the current system that leaves women and people of color and indigenous (POCI) entrepreneurs in particular, without the capital investment needed to start-up or bring their business to the next level. Limited collateral and low credit scores, not to mention structural and institutional racism among many other factors, bar entrepreneurs, especially of color, from accessing traditional financing. Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) have stepped in to fill parts of the gap, but they also replicate some of those same realities for entrepreneurs who have smaller capital needs. It’s a complex issue. If you want to hear more about it, you should read this report published by the Association for Enterprise Opportunity: The Tapestry of Black Business Ownership in America: Untapped Opportunities for Success.
Anyway, we walked away from those conversations knowing that we needed to find people, ideas, and projects who could turn this challenge into an opportunity. That’s when we crossed paths with Elaine Rasmussen and learned about her idea: ConnectUp! MN. It was refreshing to hear about an event that would prioritize the same gaps we heard from entrepreneurs and design solutions around their experience. After a number of conversations, it became clearer and clearer that this project could be a powerful way to build bridges to capital for northside entrepreneurs. So, we supported ConnectUp! MN with a capacity building grant in October 2017.
Between October and March, when the event took place, the ConnectUP! team held a number of both investor and entrepreneur briefings to help prepare folks to maximize their opportunities for making meaningful connections at the summit.
So, what’s the big deal about hosting briefings?
This was actually a key part of the process that felt powerful and unique about ConnectUP! The keynote speaker, Connie Evans, CEO of Association of Enterprise Opportunity spoke about three major and interlocking barriers contributing to the difficulties in establishing and growing black owned businesses: 1) the Wealth Gap, 2) the Credit or Capital Gap, and 3) the Trust Gap.
The briefings addressed all three, but in particular, the Trust Gap, which is often overlooked by the mainstream narratives, but is usually core to the story. The Trust Gap refers to “the experience of discrimination, bias, continued disappointment, and these persisting wealth and credit barriers manifest in wariness—of banks, of other institutions, of potential would-be-mentors and consultants—that cannot be denied.” (The Tapestry of Black Business Ownership, page 5) Thus, building in opportunities to anchor relationships and re-build trust is vital. And that’s exactly what the briefings did– they pulled back the veil on the sometimes confusing and hidden rules of engagement between investors and entrepreneurs AND they built empathy both ways, creating the environment to change business as usual.
Let’s get back to a few weeks ago; ConnectUp! MN Conference. March 14-15, Minneapolis.
That relational energy fostered by the briefings, the capacity to listen to one another and trust that we know what we need was palpable at the event. Every detail was thoughtfully orchestrated to showcase the genius of women and POCI entrepreneurs. From the fresh conference swag provided by Wolfpack Promotionals, a northside promotional printing shop owned by KB Brown, to the presenter gift bags assembled by Nature’s Syrup (where I got my fabulous body butter!), owned by DeVonna Pittman, ConnectUp! MN was clear about who was being centered and why.
There is so much more I could say about what made ConnectUp! meaningful; if you want to hear more we should grab coffee, or even better, mark your calendars for June 2019 for the next ConnectUp! to see for yourself!
If there is anything I have come to learn and be inspired by over the course of the last two years working in this arena on the northside and attending ConnectUp! MN it’s that black northside entrepreneurs are smart, determined, hardworking and resilient in the face of adversity.
When life gives them lemons…they start a lemonade business.