Entrepreneur Ray Bell spoke to the AFRO about how Black entrepreneurs can access capital, such as the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund through JPMorgan Chase. (Screenshot)

By Savanna Samuels
Special to the AFRO

With the coronavirus pandemic affecting many businesses, JPMorgan Chase announced it is making a $350 million, five-year investment toward developing Black, LatinX, women-owned and other underserved small businesses to combat racial economic disparity and provide financial recuperation due to COVID-19.  Having already established programming to help business owners of color, JPMorgan Chase’s new commitment includes an investment of $42.5 million toward low-cost loans, equity investments and philanthropy through the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund.   

“Black, Latinx and women entrepreneurs face historic challenges to accessing the capital and other resources needed to keep their doors open during the pandemic and ultimately have the opportunity to grow long-term,” said JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon.  

Considered one of the oldest financial institutions in the United States, JPMorgan Chase provides global financial services like consumer banking, investment banking, and commercial banking. According to a JPMorgan Chase publication, since February 2020, the introduction to the COVID-19 pandemic, 40 percent of Black businesses have shuttered for good. In addition, entrepreneurs have to face a number of challenges since the pandemic like reduced profitability, cash-flow issues, staff morale, unpaid bills, invoices and rent, and making payments on financial products.  With all things considered, the divide is clear concerning the success of minority entrepreneurs compared to our white counterparts.  

“Now more than ever, business has a responsibility to help solve societal problems. We’re pulling together our business resources, philanthropy and policy expertise to address the racial wealth gap, give underserved small businesses the support they need to grow, and build a more inclusive economy,” Dimon added.

The Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, launched in 2015, is a partnership with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and a system of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) that provides access to capital and technical skills to Black, Latinx and other underserved communities. Current cities that are included in the program’s network are Detroit, The Bay Area, Chicago, South Bronx and the Greater Washington DC area.  However, with the new $42.5 million expansion, the fund will allow for opportunities to branch out in more cities across the country.  With the program aiming to assist over 3,000 small businesses, success stories like Ray Bell’s are soon to become more common in the Black community.

Founded in 2009, The H.O.P.E. Project is a “career-training program for social and economically disadvantaged adults.” The program has serviced those aged between 18-24 in training for entry-level positions in Information Technology (IT).  

“We really focus on developing people for careers in Information Technology, but also helping organizations build, maintain and grow really strong career training programs,” Bell said during a live episode of the AFRO show “Chicken Boxx.

After working primarily in the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 15 years, Bell finally followed his true passion for community outreach and began his career-training program as volunteer based.  He saw the potential of the program and allowed for the H.O.P.E. Project to speak for itself, before being awarded and recognized with hornets such as the 2012 National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ “National Builder Award” as well as being the lead facilitator for the largest behavior change training in federal government history.  

Bell said he believes that now is the time for all Black entrepreneurs to seize the moment and utilize the options provided, such as accessing the capital offered by JPMorgan Chase.

“We’re at a point now when it comes to entrepreneurship and business where we’ve got to strike. We’ve got to strike while the iron is hot.  There are so many opportunities that are just bubbling up and our community, Black community- we’re not taking advantage,” said Bell.

Bell’s success story is a testament to jumping in, as his trajectory wasn’t linear, but it was worth it.  He spoke about his journey and how it’s okay to fail.  Despite failures, Bell’s company is currently making an annual salary of $1 million. With smart spending and consistent care of responsibilities, the only other key to the formula is patience, according to Bell. 

The inspirational businessman said he encourages all entrepreneurs to remember one key to developing a successful business:  “You can’t just run a business. You’ve got to be constantly selling, you’ve got to be constantly growing the company. Utilize the technology that exists and don’t be fearful.” 

The expansion of The Entrepreneurs of Color Fund is a part of a larger initiative created by JPMorgan Chase.  Other efforts consist of a $30 billion assurance made by the company to provide opportunities to underserved communities as well as the reformation of federal programs.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the racial inequalities in the U.S., which puts a strain on families’ economic mobility and impedes the continued growth of our economy,” said JPMorgan Chase Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion Brian Lamb. “We know these crucial institutions create lasting change for Black and Latinx families and we hope our support will help uplift the people and businesses that are the backbone of our local economies.”

To learn more about JPMorgan & Chase’s community initiatives, visit https://www.jpmorganchase.com/impact/communities.