Our ever-growing community of entrepreneurs and the organizations that support them is richer by one. Only a few months old – and started during the Pandemic – Genesis Block is a welcome addition to our thriving ecosystem. It serves a critical unmet need, serving the underserved. Members of the Coalition (a collaboration of not-for-profit organizations helping entrepreneurs) are especially excited to welcome this organization to the mix. We see the need.
Genesis Block is on a mission to “Build the Entrepreneur Class Block by Block.” They accomplish this mission three ways:
- a downtown coworking space, including private offices, open workspaces, meeting rooms and networking spaces – long a desired contribution to downtown.
- the Genesis Block Entrepreneur Academy to support early stage entrepreneurs and business owners.
- and finally, Back on the Block Minority Accelerator, which provides resources for underserved entrepreneurs – women and people of color primarily.
Think we don’t need this? Think again. Forbes tells us that over 40% of black-owned small businesses have shuttered their doors due to COVID. Female-owned firms were almost 6 percentage points more likely to be closed due to COVID-19 than male-owned firms, according to a McKinsey report. The underserved are being hit harder than anyone. And yet, our one-size-fits-all approach to entrepreneurial help may not work well for women and minority-owned startups.
Before starting Genesis Block with his wife Tracey (who in addition to being an entrepreneur also heads up the African American Business Council for the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce), Girard Newkirk was admitted to The Google for Startups accelerator. Specifically for Black Founders, he came away inspired – and has been re-admitted for another three month, Seed-to-Series A program for technology startups. When he learned is that there’s a different set of skills, different set of needs to be addressed in these underserved groups.
“There aren’t mature ecosystems that specifically speak to minorities and women owned entrepreneurs,” Newkirk has commented to me. “So many social elements feel uninviting. That makes it hard to build the relationships needed, and even harder to tap into the systems in place. We make it inviting. We help monitories and women to climb the ladder with eduction and networks that help them build a successful business.”
Consider this trend as a whole new look at addressing entrepreneurial needs. In Wilmington, Genesis Block is leading this trend. Elsewhere, others are also opening doors.
In North Carolina, NC IDEA has launched the Black Entrepreneurs Council – the NC BEC Ecosystem. They began accepting applications on October 5th and will continue through November 6th. The objective is to address the problems with Black Entrepreneurship in North Carolina.
Locally, Genesis Block is collaborating with N.E.W. (Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington) and the CIE on an NC IDEA grant to form a ‘PreCelerator’ program. This will bridge the gap in entrepreneurial support between introductory entrepreneurship programs (like the Brian Hamilton Foundation’s Inmates to Entrepreneurs, SBTDC’s Taking the Leap, the UNCW’s Entrepreneurship for Non-Business Majors) and competitive Accelerators (like TechStars, NC RIoT, and YCombinator) that look for investor-ready ventures. The PreCelerator is designed to provide entrepreneurs with key introductions in the community, first customers, and experiential learning opportunities.
Nationally, Shark Tank’s Damond John is spearheading a new event. Called Black Entrepreneurs Day, the October 24th online event brings together business leaders such as BET cofounder Robert Johnson, A-list, second-act entrepreneurs like Shaquille O’Neal, LL Cool J, Gabrielle Union and Jamie Foxx, and investors like Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton.
And thanks to Tracey and Girard Newkirk and their work at Genesis Block, we have skin in this game here in Wilmington with much the same mission.
COVID has clearly presented a new challenge for us. The Black Lives Matter movement has opened our eyes to change that must occur. Can we create new economic opportunities that are accessible to all? We in the Coalition believe so, and warmly welcome Genesis Block to help us grow and enrich our community.
Diane Durance, MPA, is director of UNC Wilmington's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). The CIE is a resource for the start-up and early-stage business community to help diversify the local economy with innovative solutions. For more information, visit www.uncw.edu/cie.
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