Tampa Chamber of Commerce offers boost to black and Hispanic-owned businesses

Published June 28 2017
Updated June 28 2017

TAMPA — There's a disconnect in Hillsborough County's minority business community.

Nearly half (48 percent) of all Hillsborough businesses are minority-owned, yet those minority businesses contribute less than 5 percent of the county's total revenue, according to a study by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

A new Minority Business Accelerator sponsored by the Tampa chamber seeks to fix that by providing black and Hispanic businesses with the skills, resources and networks to grow their businesses.

"We aim to give businesses practical tools that they can use to overcome barriers such as lack of access to capital or key decision makers," LaKendria Robinson, director of the Minority Business Accelerator (MBA), said.

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The two-year program is geared toward minority businesses located in Tampa or Hillsborough County which bring in at least $500,000 in revenue. To qualify, a business owner must have an active business plan with a well-defined growth strategy. The chamber hopes to select between five to eight businesses.

"This program is definitely necessary for the community," said Lorenzo Williams, of L&L Group Services a fire and safety inspection company. "We have a lot of businesses that have growth potential. We need access to all multicultural businesses in order for us to grow."

A few of the local business owners expressed concern that the $500,000 revenue requirement was too high, during an informational meeting at the Robert W. Saunders Library.

"I match up with some, but not all of the requirements," Williams said. "But, I have friends with businesses that have been established a little longer than mine. I am going to forward this program to them too."

If a businesses doesn't meet all the benchmarks, Robinson still suggests applying. She also advises business owners to check out the chamber's Fit One and Fit Two programs targeted more for start-ups and smaller businesses.

The chamber has been developing the MBA for three years, visiting similar programs in Greenville, S.C. and Cincinnati. In 2015, Cincinnati's minority program generated 250 new jobs and 24 percent in year-over-year growth for the participating businesses. The Greenville chamber recorded 138 new jobs in 2013.

"If we can mirror (that track record) here, we think that is a win," Bemetra Simmons, chair of the MBA, said.

Applications open on August 4. The chamber will announce the inaugural class at the annual meeting on December 14.

Contact Tierra Smith at [email protected] tampabay.com or (414) 702-5006. Follow @bytierrasmith.