I always say that the Portland startup community is big enough to be statistically relevant, but not so large that you can’t move the needle. So the fact that our community is severely lacking in terms of diversity and inclusion presents both a problem and an opportunity for the community. Part of the solution must include ensuring that everyone has access to resources and support that give all entrepreneurs the greatest chance of success. That was the motivation behind Prosper Portland’s Inclusive Business Resource Network.
From tech startups to neighborhood retail, small businesses are vital to the city’s economy. The Inclusive Business Resource Network is a citywide program that brings multiple services for small business into a single network to provide greater efficiencies and cross-functional innovation. The Network leverages the power of partnership to increase the success of underrepresented entrepreneurs.
Through focused resources, collaboration and client-centered services the Network seeks to drastically shift outcomes for business owners of color, immigrants, women founders, and other underrepresented minorities. Approximately 600 businesses are served through the Network each year, and 400 businesses – 65 percent owned by women and 75 percent owned by people of color – receive long-term support (30+ advising hours a year).
Budget for this program comes from the City of Portland and that budget is overseen by Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Portland City Council. And it’s budget season. So Business for a Better Portland wants to be sure that the community voices its opinion about the value of these programs.
Recognizing the need to build an economy that lifts up all communities, Mayor Wheeler convened a Council of Economic Advisors in 2017 that included over 40 community leaders. In partnership with Worksystems and Prosper Portland, the Council recommended $900K in spending to support efforts in workforce development, youth skills training, and access to capital for women and minorities.
Prosper Portland, the main bureau responsible for ensuring that public dollars are invested to create equitably distributed economic opportunity, submitted an additional budget request of $1.8MM. The funding will go to support small businesses through innovative, grassroots programs like the Inclusive Business Resource Network. It will also increase workforce development and foster growth at the neighborhood business level. Funding these programs and leveraging the City’s investment to secure private and philanthropic funding will create a model for public/private partnerships in the years to come. Most importantly, it is a signal to marginalized communities that they have a place in the future of Portland, that they are valued members of our City, and that they will not be left behind.
Part of what makes the Portland startup community so special is the willingness of people and companies to collaborate for the greater good of every Portland resident. This is an opportunity to voice that support and to ensure that multiple organizations have the funding they need to continue to do this work.
The need is urgent. If you’re interested in providing a letter of support or you would like to learn more, please read “Call To Action: Support Portland’s Underrepresented Business Owners.” The deadline for letters of support is 10:00AM on Friday, April 27, 2018.
[Full disclosure: PIE is part of the Inclusive Business Resource Network, for which it receives grant funding. I am the cofounder and general manager of PIE. I am an advisor to Business for a Better Portland.]