Milford Black Business Alliance gets $100K federal boost

MILFORD — The Black Business Alliance has received a financial boost it hopes to turn into a windfall for Black business owners throughout the state.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited the alliance offices at Connecticut Post Mall Tuesday to present the group a $100,000 federal grant for its “Black Business Funding Superhighway” — an initiative that supports Black-owned businesses through financial literacy training, loan application support and networking opportunities.

“Essentially, it is dealing directly with the access of capital issue that many of our Black business has had to face, not just now, but historically,”said Anne-Marie Knight, BBA executive director.

Knight said the funding will offer a direct benefit to Black-owned businesses.

“We are helping Black-owned businesses strengthen their skill around credit, understanding their reporting, how to develop a funding-ready package, the entire piece,” said Knight.

The second component is introducing business owners to a network of funders.

“We have CDFIs (community development financial institutions), banks, other funders that are part of our network and right now, we have five partners who have signed an agreement to work with us,” she said.

The BBA will help the business create a package to present to the network of funders and if the package is rejected, the group has an open line of communication with the funders to see what they could do differently to receive funding.

“It’s the first time we have had an open line of communication with funders,” she said. “Our goal is to be able to research and understand the current system that we have what’s working and what’s not working. What needs to be adjusted and then be able to speed up that process.”

The funding will also complete the BBA’s financial literacy program. But the key, according to Knight, is the network of funders that they have cultivated, which allows better access to capital.

“It’s not that there were no funds available, it’s just that we didn’t have access to it,” said Knight. “So, we are approaching this from two different directions at the same time. Rather than focusing on the financial literacy or just maybe the credit criteria, we are looking at it from a holistic perspective.”

Before the BBA applied for the grant, Knight said they started to notice many Black-owned businesses could benefit from a financial literacy program and a fast-tracked way to access capital.

“Our board members and staff members are entrepreneurs, and we’ve all had our experience trying to access capital,” she said. “For the most part, we started businesses with our own personal savings or credit cards, and when that ran out, there weren’t many options for us.

“So we wanted to figure out how to fix the system. Not just what can we do to put a Band-Aid on the system but what can we really do take a look at this, take it apart if necessary and fix the system so that it works for our benefit,” Knight added.

Ultimately for the BBA, the goal of the program is to help Black-owned businesses be more financially stable and grow.

“But we also want to help them improve their financial capacity,” she said. “And since we’ve layered on the advocacy aspect to the program, we want to be the intermediary between funders and Black-owned businesses to build trust with both and make a positive connection.”