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Melissa Bradley wants to make entrepreneurship and impact investing work for people of color in Washington D.C. the way it does for a white kid from Stanford. Bradley’s Project 500 is recruiting, training and connecting 500 black and Latino founders from the east side of the river in Washington D.C.
Making entrepreneurship more accessible to people of color is more than an ethical imperative. “It’s an economic one,” Bradley told ImpactAlpha. The exclusion of the majority of its population from entrepreneurship “needs to be quickly reversed, she says.
ImpactAlpha: Tell me about Washington D.C.’s startup ecosystem and why it’s not working for founders of color.
Melissa Bradley: There are inherent systemic racism challenges and there are challenges with people and processes. In D.C., we joke and say there’s east of the (Anacostia) river and everywhere else. East of the river you will find what has typically been termed resident-owned businesses, I think there’s one financial institution there. There are no CDFIs. There are lots of churches and there’s really been a policy focus on nonprofit social services. We realized that there was a gap east of the river. These were people who were already running businesses. For some of them going to a startup weekend or a startup program, was not of interest to them. They were either doing side hustle from their house or running a business in their home. They were running businesses out in the community. That created an opportunity for Project 500.
ImpactAlpha: What are the challenges entrepreneurs in these communities are facing and how is Project 500 responding?
Bradley: We know that 55% of our folks live or work in high-poverty areas. We know that 34% have a college degree. They’re educated but they need the technical training in business operations and finance. With training, we give them the language, work on their business plan, work on their pitch work on their financials, subsidize a lawyer, a tax person, a tech person, a branding person — so that they actually have the language and the package to be able to talk to investors.
Read the full article about impact investing by Dennis Price at ImpactAlpha.