Right Place, Wrong Place

I stopped by Main Street Station earlier this month because the city’s Office of Economic Development was holding an information session on the Steps to Success Mentorship Program for minority small businesses. The room was full – about 50 small business owners turned out to learn more about the year-long mentoring program supported by Capital One.

I missed the part in the press release that said it was a program for minority-owned small businesses. Once I realized I wasn’t eligible, I decided to stay for the presentation. I’m glad I did.

In addition to seeing evidence of a city-led program designed to have a positive impact on the small business community, I had an opportunity to see some new faces in Richmond’s entrepreneurial landscape.

Contractors, web developers, architects, designers, bakers and a host of others filled the second floor of the station. Almost all of the faces in the room were black.

I mention this because I’m not reminded often enough that so many of the small business owners and entrepreneurs I know in Richmond are white – and that the majority of our city is not. It is too easy to get lost in relationships with people who are like us – similar ethnicity, or backgrounds, or geography. But it is sometimes hard to break free of those patterns – and connect with new communities.

In the end, this program will select 10 small business owners and pair them with mentors from Capital One. It’s a win/win, says Vicki Rivers, director of minority business development.

“If we can help you increase your revenue,” Rivers told the audience, “that’s good for you and for the City of Richmond. We collect more taxes to fix our roads, our schools, our amenities. If you increase your revenue, you hire more people. That lowers our unemployment.”

While the program is small, it is ambitious. And it seems to have mapped out a solid plan to help a group of Richmond businesses grow.

I came to the wrong meeting, and stayed long enough for it to become the right meeting. I left encouraged, and inspired.