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New program to help Black-owned online businesses

By Andy Peters, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (CNT) City News And Talk #local-all

Shopify, Operation Hope partner on $150 million effort.

Many Black-owned entrepreneurs struggle to get bank loans and professional help to launch new businesses. A new program aims to remove those stumbling blocks.

A group including Atlanta-based Operation Hope, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that helps consumers improve credit scores, and online-commerce provider Shopify have committed $150 million to loan to Black-owned startups and established businesses. The program, 1 Million New Black Businesses, or 1MBB, will start taking applications Tuesday. Other business partners will provide access to accountants, commercial bankers and business consultants to help grow sales, and successful applicants get a fully functioning e-commerce site on Shopify.

Several professional services firms have joined the 1MBB effort, including Aprio, an Atlanta-based accounting firm, and First Horizon Bank.

It’s a package of products that many Black entrepreneurs couldn’t get through a bank or credit union, said John Hope Bryant, CEO of Operation Hope.

“A bank won’t lend you money unless you can prove that you don’t need it,” Bryant said. “That’s especially true with minority-owned small businesses.”

Small businesses with Black owners were half as likely to obtain business loans as whites, according to a Federal Reserve survey published earlier this year.

Applicants could receive loans and financial advice in as soon as 12 weeks, Bryant said. Shopify will originate the loans.

The initiative is the latest effort to help Black consumers and businesses enter the financial mainstream. Earlier this month, a group that includes rapper Killer Mike opened a digital bank aimed at Black and Latino consumers.

Banks and credit unions have tried for years to help Black consumers open checking and savings accounts. The efforts helped, as the number of U.S. households without bank accountsfell to 5.4% in 2019 from 6.5% in 2017, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Monday.

Consumers who own checking and savings accounts typically have access loans with better rates and a wider variety of financial services.

The federal government’s $660 billion loan initiative for businesses hit by COVID-19, the Paycheck Protection Program, also helped few Black-owned businesses, Bryant said. PPP loans were based on a company’s number of employees and its rent obligations. many Black-owned small businesses typically didn’t have enough workers to qualify and are based out of the owner’s residence.

Bryant said a bad credit history may not prevent applicants from receiving a loan.

He hopes more companies will contribute services such as insurance advice or software typically available only to well-established businesses.

Bryant noted that 1MBB is not a charitable organization, as participating companies like Shopify will likely get a pipeline of new business customers through the program.

“This is not pure philanthropy,” he said. “Shopify believes that Black-owned businesses are good businesses if they’re properly supported.”