(l-r) Rose Flenorl and Luz Urrutia. (Courtesy Photos)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
msayles@afro.com

Applications opened, July 12, for FedEx’s E-Commerce Learning Lab, a program designed to assist diverse small business owners in developing or expanding their e-commerce operations. The applications will close July 19. 

The program was developed in collaboration with Accion Opportunity Fund (AOF), an organization that supports small businesses that tend to be overlooked by the global financial system. 

“From our perspective, it’s publicly known that women and people of color who are running small businesses in America are generally overlooked and underfunded,” said Luz Urrutia, CEO of AOF. “We saw this with the pandemic where it was women and entrepreneurs of color that didn’t get access to the federal funding at the scale at which they needed it.” 

Luz Urrutia, CEO of Accion Opportunity Fund, believes people will continue to shop online after the pandemic, and e-commerce could potentially be a more cost-effective way of reaching more customers. (Courtesy Photo)

According to Urrutia, women and entrepreneurs of color get the least access to credit and financial coaching because they don’t generally maintain robust banking relationships with the mainstream financial system. Small businesses run by these individuals also do not have adequate access to capital to access the resources they need to be successful. 

“This is the community that needed the most help pre-pandemic, and clearly needs the most help post-pandemic,” said Urrutia. “I call it the most untapped market in the world because they have an enormous amount of resilience, grit and determination, and they are going to do whatever it takes to survive.” 

Back in 2020, when shelter-in-place orders were in effect, many people were forced to do their shopping online. If small businesses did not have social media or virtual retail platforms, they were at a higher risk of closing unless they could pivot to online operations, according to Rose Flenorl, global citizenship manager for FedEx. 

The E-Commerce Learning Lab aims to support people of color and women-owned businesses that are continuing to adapt their business models in the wake of COVID-19. It will select 150 businesses to participate in the program, and these winners will be notified in August.

Rose Flenorl, global citizenship manager for FedEx, found Accion Opportunity Fund to be the perfect partner for this program because of its dedication to providing capital and support to people of color and women-owned businesses. (Courtesy Photo)

During the 4-month program, which will officially launch in September, entrepreneurs will learn how to start selling online, how to optimize their e-commerce operations and how to expand their e-commerce expertise. It will consist of a series of virtual workshops, technical support, fulfillment and shipping support, and one-on-one coaching from 37 Oaks, a commerce consulting company based in Chicago. After completing the program, participants will receive a $2,000 business grant to offset e-commerce setup costs. 

The E-Commerce Learning Lab was purposefully scheduled to coincide with the holiday season so that participants could take advantage of  e-commerce operations to yield more sales. Flenorl hopes that the businesses can take advantage of this time frame to help them in their recovery from the pandemic. 

“We want to walk through the process with them, and then, more than anything, we want to tell their success stories when the program is over with,” said Flenorl.

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