Here at Ithaca.Community we love highlighting local businesses. And when one of those local institutions buoys other small businesses in the community it’s the icing on the cake. Business Leaders of Colors (BLOC) offers varying levels of support for Ithaca’s entrepreneurs, with a special emphasis on owners of color.
While there are several resources for entrepreneurs in town, an organization like BLOC is necessary because of the daunting realities business people of color face. According to the US Federal Reserve, more than half of companies with black owners who apply for a business loan are turned down – more than double the turn down rate for white business owners. The denial rates for American Indian-, Asian-, and Hispanic-owned companies range from 31-39 percent.
“Not only do business leaders of color face more difficulty obtaining loans,” said BLOC founder Gladys Brangman, “they have trouble getting marketing support and finding a place where they feel comfortable networking.”
While the organization did start out without the “s” – Business Leaders of Color, rather than Colors – the team wanted to make it clear that it was out to offer inclusive support across a spectrum. Over 100 individuals are in BLOC’s network and about 50 businesses have profiles posted to BLOC’s website, and they include all racial identities.
“I consider it a community more than anything else,” said Brangman.
BLOC offers a suite of services to assist business owners. Some are free, such as the tutorial videos about creating a business plan, managing finances, and differentiating between various types of loans on its website.
If entrepreneurs opt to pay the $75 annual membership fee, a number of perks open up to them. They gain access to the local Chamber of Commerce. They are able to schedule one-on-one appointments with a BLOC business consultant for advice at any stage of their business, whether they need help drafting a business plan or marketing their product. They also gain a web presence on BLOC’s site, which can be invaluable as the cost of purchasing a web domain and designing and maintaining a website can be cost-prohibitive for small business owners.
Brangman herself had trouble setting up a website when she started her own conflict resolution and communication business. “Back then people said you could do it all yourself and it would be easy,” she said. “I ended up with a website no one saw – gratefully, because it was awful.”
Now Brangman is working to dispel the myth that owners can do everything themselves and is instead trying to connect them to the support they need for their business to thrive. “I spent a lot of time spinning my wheels, doing things I was not good at,” she said. “It’s a lot for a single business owner to wear all the hats.”
BLOC got its start in 2016, when Bob Rossi, a friend of Brangman’s who owns The CommonSpot, a co-working space on the Commons, enlisted her help to increase the diversity of his clientele so that it would be more reflective of the community. Forty people showed up for the event and the biggest unmet need they identified was lack of access to support for their business in areas such as marketing, accounting, and sales.
Brangman emphasizes that BLOC is not about money – it’s about support and community. That’s why at every BLOC networking event she makes sure each business leader has the opportunity to say, “Hi. My name is so-and-so and this is what I do.” The ensuing connections, and the connections that come from those connections, weave together and reinforce one another to make our community stronger.