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New program to connect dozens of new businesses with capital and resources while building best practices for further growth

Dozens of new minority-owned businesses in Philadelphia will launch with a targeted boost of strategy and capital over the next 18 months under the Entrepreneurs of Color project, a new initiative by the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ) with $234,000 in funding from the John Templeton Foundation. The grant supports research into best practices that will inform the development of pilot programs. The pilot programs are meant to empower two cohorts of entrepreneurs, connecting them with capital, enlarging their professional networks, and providing education, tools and support as they establish and grow their businesses.

Philadelphia holds the distinction of being America’s poorest big city, with more than 25 percent of its residents living below the poverty line. Poverty disproportionately affects the city’s communities of color: over half of the city’s black residents, and 38 percent of the city’s Hispanic residents currently live in poverty. And while 60 percent of Philadelphians are people of color, only 15 percent of the city’s small business are owned by people of color.

The Entrepreneurs of Color project is led by Michael Banks, the UWGPSNJ’s managing director for employment opportunities and entrepreneurship. Banks is the former president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and has a business background that includes stints as a vice president at Citibank and as financial controller at a Philadelphia startup. 

Banks’ team at UWGPSNJ will partner with Philadelphia’s Industrial Development Corporation, Chamber of Commerce and a range of consultants, experts, and leaders of local social program to analyze the ecosystem that the city’s entrepreneurs of color operate within and develop a program to effectively “de-risk” investment in what are typically high-risk business ventures. The project will test the hypothesis that a portfolio of small businesses with robust community support can succeed at higher rates than typical small businesses. The team expects that three quarters of the first two cohorts of businesses will be profitable within two years.

“The Entrepreneurs of Color project gives the John Templeton Foundation, which is located just 14 miles from Philadelphia’s Center City, an opportunity to partner with a local organization to better understand why so few small businesses in our city are owned by people of color — and how this can be remedied,” says Amy Proulx, the John Templeton Foundation’s program officer for Individual Freedom and Free markets. “When small businesses succeed, it creates a ripple effect throughout the city, creating jobs, growing the economic pie, and lifting many of the most vulnerable out of poverty.” 


Explore the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey’s work to foster Employment and Entrepreneurship.

Learn about one of the models for the project, Detroit’s successful Entrepreneurs of Color initiative.