Emmanuel Williams noticed that for all the programming available to aspiring entrepreneurs, there was little support for those looking to grow their small businesses.
As Black United Fund’s community justice and equity coordinator, Williams had a unique opportunity to fix that.
“We want to support an emerging entrepreneur that is looking to scale from side hustle to main hustle,” Williams told The Skanner. “We’re going to surround them with a board of advisors – three to four established entrepreneurs that have either scaled their business, meaning they have employees, or they’ve been in business for at least five years or so, and they’re currently conducting business and doing very well for themselves.”
The Emerging Entrepreneur pilot program will launch in October, with the inaugural participant checking in with Williams on a biweekly basis to discuss business model and strategy. Over nine months, the entrepreneur will have at least four hours of consultation with each member of the advising panel. The program includes an $8,000 unrestricted stipend.
Williams emphasized that eligible applicants are “not aspiring, but emerging.”
“We’re looking for someone who does have a business and they’ve been in business for maybe two, three, four years, and had a relative level of success. But as an entrepreneur you realize there’s a lot more information that you need, and sometimes capital isn’t necessarily going to take you to the next level.”
Williams himself identifies as an entrepreneur. He runs his own racial equity training business and for the past five years has hosted the Sox and Sandals podcast.
“A good chunk of my conversations (on the podcast) are around entrepreneurship, kind of a coalescence of entrepreneurship and spirituality, people’s why, what drives them to be an entrepreneur and do their own thing,” he said.
In speaking with other self-employed business professionals, Williams realized the value of having direct access to expertise – and that a lot can be learned in an hour or two.
“Inadvertently through podcasting, I’ve learned a ton just sitting across from people and picking their brain,” he said. “And so I’m learning years and years of experience from people, and I’m getting tips and tricks from them that are helping to advance my business.
“I thought, ‘I know a good amount of successful, established entrepreneurs."
"What if we just surrounded folks with that brain trust?"
"I would forecast that amazing things will happen. Let’s try it out.’”
With the go-ahead from BUF CEO Dr. L.M. Alaiyo Foster, Williams has set about putting together a panel of experts.
BUF has not yet announced the Emerging Entrepreneur experts, but said panel members included the owner of a corporate and individual tax preparation service, the owner of a counseling practice with a small staff, the owner of a successful payment processing company, and the proprietor of multiple businesses, including high-end social media marketing.
Despite the risks of going it alone in business, Williams described what he sees as the profound benefits.
“You have more control over your destiny when you are self-employed,” he said, “and you have the ability to scale to the point where you’re not necessarily working x amount of hours – you can do what you want to do when you need to do it, as you see fit. Just the satisfaction of that, and the freedom in that, and the peace of mind that you get from that, it’s hard to duplicate that in a job.
He added, “You have no cap on your income, essentially. You don’t have to wait for someone to give you a raise, you just find out how to be more profitable or you find a way to scale your business and you give yourself a raise.”
Entrepreneurship is also arguably a way to circumnavigate the systemic racism and often-daily microaggressions that are present in far too many workplaces.
“As far as being Black and being an entrepreneur, obviously we live in a system that has been against us,” Williams said. “There’s a level of systematic prejudice, discrimination and anatagonization in corporate America and other places…you have certain policies and underlying attitudes, so it’s like you can’t just go to work and be skilled. You have to be a superhero and be super emotionally intelligent and be able to know how to counteract racist patterns of thought, speech and action from people that you don’t know, who don’t even know what they’re doing when they’re doing it.
“To be able to just, one, work and make a living, and two, be able to work and not have to deal with all those things you deal with in a corporate setting."
"To be able to self-determine and to be able to economically liberate yourself, it’s that much sweeter."
"Because there’s a lot more at stake, and there’s a lot more you’re dodging and circumventing when you’re a Black entrepreneur, because there’s so much that’s been piled up against you.”
Applications for this year’s Emerging Entrepreneur program have closed. For more information, visit https://www.bufor.org/eep-2022.