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Black-owned businesses make up a substantial segment of the small business sector. They are also, unfortunately, disproportionately affected during economic downturns like the one brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The disruptions of 2020 have confronted entrepreneurs with a new array of challenges, and the trials faced by Black-owned companies have only been magnified by the current environment, including lack of access to capital, changes in supply chains and shifting consumer behavior.

Black-owned businesses often face lower revenues, profit margins and cash liquidity, are underrepresented among companies with external financing, and are most likely to exit in the first three years, according to a JPMorgan Chase Institute study. Additionally, more than 400,000 Black-owned businesses shuttered between February and April this year, making up 41% of the total 1.1 million.

The data is sobering, but by embracing uncertainty, remaining agile and future-proofing business models, Black entrepreneurs can help change the narrative and position their businesses to not only survive, but thrive for years to come.

Optimizing Working Capital & Cash Flow

Working capital is the lifeblood of every company, enabling them to stay open, fund day-to-day operations and invest for the future. An airtight working capital management strategy can position a company to outperform and companies with more liquidity are better able to withstand disruptions to cash flow and revenue. The reality is, Black-owned businesses hold materially less cash than white-owned firms.

In times of uncertainty, it’s critical for entrepreneurs to refine their liquidity strategies and evaluate short and long-term funding needs as part of a sound resiliency plan. Some ways to do this include reducing operating costs, optimizing cash on hand, pivoting products and services to cater to new segments and changing distribution models, adjusting valuation expectations and engaging potential new investors.

In essence, enhancing working capital management enables companies to improve operational efficiency, better manage cost of capital and mitigate financial risks. Although this may not sound like a sexy area, these are the fault lines that are exposed during a crisis and can be a mortal flaw to a business.

Scaling Finances and Reducing Operational Risk

As a startup grows, professionalizing the management of a company’s finances is critical to safeguard ventures and take innovation to the next level. Black entrepreneurs can implement a number of measures including digitizing treasury and payment processes, mapping capital structures and evaluating relationships with banking partners for financing solutions.

Part of the equation includes professionalizing a personal board of directors. It’s never been more important to create a personal board of advisors — and to strategically add to the cohort — in order to position a business to scale. Entrepreneurs should constantly be thinking about new skill sets that are needed in the next phase of their scale up journey.

Additionally, people, processes, technology and market shifts play a significant role in business resiliency, so it’s prudent to take the following steps to reduce operational risk:

– Establish a comprehensive control framework with standardized policies and processes

– Develop a robust internal accountability structure that clearly defines areas of responsibility during and after disruptive events

– Build a business resiliency plan that offers direction around management, communications and procedures, along with tests to enable your organization to be swiftly operational during a crisis

Building Connections with the Venture Capital Community

Relationships are fundamental in the venture capital (VC) world. However with the ecosystem largely dominated by White founders and VCs, Black entrepreneurs are often at a disadvantage. The good news is that the number of available resources to support Black founders is growing. For example, J.P. Morgan recently launched a $30 billion commitment to advance racial equity over the next five years, including delivering $2 billion in loans to Black- and Latinx-owned businesses. VCs are also becoming more focused on identifying founders of color to invest in.

Additionally, remember that your relationship with a VC is more than just a transaction. Focus on building a long-term relationship based on trust and performance:

– Find a common ground: Make your first impression meaningful, establishing the trust that will be essential in the long-run. Create familiarity by identifying commonalities. Building an authentic connection will significantly help position you as a good fit.

– Have a two-way conversation: Make it a discussion that involves the VC instead of simply presenting your deck. Be open and receptive to feedback and show how you can work together as partners.

– Let the data speak: Support your claims with data and track records demonstrating your success. Establish credibility through metrics and always tie back to how the numbers impact the bottom line. Leverage the data to offer a forecast of where you’re going, and how working with the VC will propel your startup to the next level.

– Offer a well-defined call-to-action and be persistent: Be very clear in what you’re looking for, and the timeline needed to bring your plans to fruition. Stay top-of-mind after the meeting through consistent outreach and updates until you receive a definitive answer.

A Better Future for Black Founders

Whether it’s through leadership, resources, mentorship or investment, we can all bring something to the table to help elevate Black founders. In my role at J.P. Morgan leading a team of bankers focusing on high growth startups, we have access to the best insights in the business. Our intentional focus on diverse founders gives them access to the insights that the biggest companies in the world have access to. Bringing that level of thought leadership to Black founders is what makes me proud of our team’s work. It’s about the democratization of information in an age where information is the most precious currency.

We have a long way to go to fix racial disparities in the business community, but coming together to elevate Black founders as they navigate this pandemic will help level the playing field and bring more value and ingenuity to our communities.


Alton McDowell is the Managing Director, Co-Head of Technology & Disruptive Commerce, Middle Market Banking & Specialized Industries at J.P. Morgan.