By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

After winning JPMorgan Chase’s Annual Challenge, the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Center (CHCTDC)  has received a $3 million philanthropic investment to help the project get started. 

Earlier this year, CHCTDC created the BLACKBONE Project, an initiative to help D.C. based Black women founders grow and scale their business with capacity-building resources, access to capital and mentoring. 

The project will run over the course of three years, and applications are accepted on a rolling basis. The BLACKBONE Project is expected to serve a total of 660 Black women entrepreneurs. 

“Although Black women founders are the fastest-growing population of small business owners, we actually get less than two percent of venture capital dollars. This is not by happenstance or mistake,” said Monica Ray, president of CHCTDC. 

“Women don’t have access to the networks that our male counterparts have. We don’t have the same access to financial institutions that men have,” she continued. “When we go before an underwriting board, women-led ventures receive less than half the amount of time and underwriting than men do.” 

The BLACKBONE Project is the brainchild of Monica Ray, who serves as president of the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation. Ray developed the initiative to help Black women address their most pressing challenges. (Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Campbell)

Established in 1988, CHCTDC began its work by providing workforce training and job placement to community members. Since then, its work has expanded to include affordable housing development, small business development and civic advocacy. 

Ray developed the BLACKBONE Project to address the challenges she faced as a Black woman in the corporate world. The name is derived from Ray deeming Black women as the backbone of the Black community. 

“The BLACKBONE Project came out of my personal experiences as a Black woman in many corporate spaces where I was the only one. In construction, I was often the only woman– I was always the only Black woman,” said Monica Ray. 

“I didn’t have peer mentor groups, and I didn’t have anybody to whine to at night about how I was treated during the day. I had started a company and run a company with very limited access to funds. The BLACKBONE initiative is designed to mitigate all of those challenges.” 

JPMorgan Chase and other local banks assisted in developing the curriculum for the BLACKBONE Project. It covers locating angel investors, accessing loans and lines of credit, understanding the different types of capital, the difference between personal and business credit scores and avenues to scale a business. 

“The BLACKBONE Project is an amazing model for how to deliver customized solutions for the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the U.S.,” said Nadine Duplessy Kearns, vice president program officer for JPMorgan Chase Mid-Atlantic Global Philanthropy. 

“Although nearly 2.7 million businesses nationwide are Black women-owned, Black women entrepreneurs often experience boundaries to accessing capital and training and technical assistance needed to be successful. In Wards 7 and 8, our work with the BLACKBONE Project is critical for increasing economic mobility and health and wellness and lessening the growing racial wealth gap in the region.”

Stephanie Campbell is the chief operating officer of the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation. She hopes the BLACKBONE Project will put participants on track to secure $1 million in revenue. (Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Campbell)

CHCTDC will also supply the business owners with accountants, insurance agents and tax advisors to provide participants with back-office support. 

As part of the project, Black women entrepreneurs will participate in a 17-week incubator at the new Retail Village at Sycamore and Oak in Ward 8. There, they will experience what it’s like to manage a brick-and-mortar business. 

The women will also have access to mental health resources. 

“We actually have a licensed psychologist on board, and each person will have access to two two-hour sessions a month where they can go over their mental health and well-being,” said Stephanie Campbell, chief operating officer for CHCTDC.

“Oftentimes, women are always running and trying to build their businesses, but we often forget about our mental health,” said Stephanie Campbell, chief operating officer of CHCTDC.  

On July 22, the BLACKBONE Project will officially launch, and CHCTDC will host a women’s entrepreneurship leadership summit at the Retail Village at Sycamore and Oak to engage more participants. 

When women leave the BLACKBONE Project, Campbell and Ray want them to be on course to make $1 million in revenue. 

“If we can just change 660 lives and businesses, help them scale and be on track to do $1 million in revenue, we’ll reach our personal goal,” said Campbell. “I think we’re on track to do that.” 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member. 

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