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Growing a Thriving Ecosystem for Minority Entrepreneurs in Arkansas

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by Tyler Hale

Starting and operating a small business is a difficult enterprise, even when business owners have a full array of resources and tools at their disposal. It becomes even more difficult when business owners lack access to capital and other essential ingredients for business success.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Think Rubix, a global social impact firm, are partnering for a comprehensive study of minority – specifically black and brown – entrepreneurs in central Arkansas. The goal of the Community Economic Ecosystem Design Project, according to project manager Bjorn K. Simmons, is to develop a broad overview of the state of entrepreneurship in central Arkansas for minority groups and how these groups could be potentially impacted by business resources.

“We really want to understand the current landscape of being a black or brown business owner in central Arkansas. especially in areas like 12th street in southwest Little Rock where the population is dominated by minorities,” he says. 

Using surveys, focus groups and collecting other forms of data, the study aims to establish a benchmark for measuring where entrepreneurs are now in central Arkansas. Ultimately, Simmons says the goal is to help create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem for black and brown entrepreneurs and business owners.

“Arkansas is so diverse in its population, and what we want to do is [establish a] benchmark with the current landscape and develop metrics that we can measure against in the future,” he says. “We have a survey we’re pushing out, we’re doing focus groups, conducting interviews all around his topic around being an entrepreneur as a black or brown entrepreneur in central Arkansas with the hopes of building a thriving ecosystem and with appropriate resources for entrepreneurs in his region.”

POC Entrepreneur Roundtable

From a historical standpoint, Arkansas has a long history of entrepreneurship, and Simmons says the study is driven by this long-term viewpoint. In addition to the standard-bearers of Arkansas entrepreneurship, such as the Walton and Tyson families, he points to areas in Little Rock that have served as hubs for African American and other minorities businesses.

“In the Little Rock area… 9th Street was a thriving economic center for African Americans, as well as 12th Street, Asher, South University in southwest Arkansas,” Simmons says. “How can we make sure those areas are resourceful in supporting entrepreneurship and scalable businesses, not just mom and pop shops? So we just want to revive the culture of thriving small business in Little Rock.”

Part of the difficulty for minority small business owners in Little Rock is structural. Simmons points to Interstate 630 and its division of Little Rock as a primary cause for disrupting entrepreneurship for minority individuals in Little Rock. He also says the westward expansion of Little Rock has driven commerce away from urban sectors in the city, which has impacted minority entrepreneurs. 

“So you pushed commerce outside of urban areas in Little Rock toward gentrified areas,” he says. “Some of these things that we’ve seen, we’re really trying to make sure are captured by the data.”

The major factors that the study is looking at are entrepreneurs’ access to capital, their ability to hire, access to infrastructure (business space, etc.) and access to technology. These factors are expected to provide a picture of what success looks like for minority businesses, and will help determine what resources will make the biggest impact for these groups. 

The study currently is offering a survey for black and brown entrepreneurs. The goal, Simmons says, is to “capture the voices of a hundred but up to a thousand entrepreneurs or small business owners…what success looks like for them, what resources they need, and how we could work with those businesses to grow…”

There is also a focus group, called the 2019 POC Round Table, that will collect viewpoints from black and brown entrepreneurs in the 12thStreet and southwest Little Rock area. For more information or to participate in the roundtable, contact Simmons at bk@highstreetequity.com.

READ MORE: Minority Business Owners Seeing More Opportunity, Success

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