By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

Entrepreneurs, state officials, financial services companies and members of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland gathered on Feb. 28 for MBE Night in Annapolis.  The event was created by former Delegate Herman Taylor, who wanted to bring together the private and public sectors to help minority business enterprise (MBE) owners prepare for the state procurement process. 

The theme for this year’s event was “Building an Ecosystem for Black Entrepreneurs.” The event came on the heels of Governor Wes Moore’s signing of an executive order that requires MBE-affiliated state agencies to report on their progress in reaching the state’s MBE procurement goal of 29 percent. The goal has not been met in over a decade by a majority of participating agencies, according to information released by state officials. 

Moore gave special remarks at MBE Night in Annapolis and said that Black business owners are a central part of why he ran for office. 

“This needs to be a state where ambition and opportunity actually have the chance to meet each other. This needs to be a state where we have to be able to reduce the regulatory red tape and the trappings that often come with our MBEs for basic participation,” said Moore. 

Governor Wes Moore speaks at MBE Night in Annapolis. (Photos by James Fields)

“There is no reason why the federal government does a better job in getting MBEs involved than the state government does. This is our chance to actually build a state that knows a focus on equity does not mean a compromise on excellence.” 

MBE Night in Annapolis featured two panel discussions centered on the state procurement process and accessing capital to compete for government contracts. 

The first was led by Maryland Board of Public Works members, Comptroller Brooke Lierman and Treasurer Dereck Davis. 

The second featured leaders from financial services firms, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and venture capital firms, including FSC First, Meridian Management Group, Latimer Ventures, M&T Bank and the Washington Area Community Investment Fund (Wacif). 

Jim Peterson, vice president of M&T Bank, served as one of the panelists during the accessing capital discussion. He said he hoped that the MBE Night in Annapolis would show entrepreneurs that they don’t have to build their businesses alone. 

“Everybody knows that small business is the lifeblood of any state, so the reason why Governor Moore’s here and why all of these folks are here is because minority small businesses are what keep this state going,” said Peterson. 

“We all realize that there are some gaps there, so we need to do more.” 

Key takeaways from MBE Night in Annapolis: 

  • The federal government is deploying $2.4 trillion dollars through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. It’s critical for minority entrepreneurs to become certified as MBEs with the federal government in order to be awarded contracts
  • Minority entrepreneurs must get certified with the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) to become MBEs and compete for contracts in the State of Maryland; The Maryland Board of Public Works is working to streamline the certification process
  • There’s more capital available right now than there’s ever been before, but minority businesses must have their financial house in order to obtain it, whether that’s filing their taxes, preparing their profit and loss statements or working with a certified public accountant
  • The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers free business counseling and can step in when entrepreneurs are struggling to qualify for loans, helping them reduce interest rates or down payments 
  • Relationships are critical in accessing capital–entrepreneurs need to have strong relationships with their bankers 
  • There are various types of capital, aside from traditional lending, that entrepreneurs can apply for, including venture capital, working capital loans, microlending and equity loans
  • Even if entrepreneurs have acceptable business credit, poor personal credit can prevent them from obtaining capital from traditional lenders
  • CDFIs often have no minimum credit score requirements and lend to entrepreneurs with low credit scores 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.