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Training program aims to bolster Detroit Black-owned small businesses

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Business and nonprofit leaders are partnering to offer a free virtual training program this fall designed to help strengthen Detroit’s Black-owned small businesses.

General Motors, the National Business League and Comerica Bank have partnered with Boston-based Initiative for a Competitive Inner City to offer the Black Technical Assistance Initiative, a tuition-free, 40-hour program beginning Oct. 18. Applications are due Sept. 24.

“It’s for companies that need a combination of strategy, marketing, finance, team building, leadership, one-one-one coaching, access to capital,” said initiative CEO Steve Grossman.

Grossman said he expects 60 to 80 businesses to participate in the program this year from various industries. Entrepreneurs accepted into the program will participate in webinars, digital learning sessions and one-on one business coaching. It ends with a virtual national conference in December that includes connecting participants with capital providers.

Reginald Humphrey, General Motors executive

“Our ultimate goal is to help accelerate or create sustainable small business ecosystems among overwhelmingly BIPOC and women-owned businesses,” Grossman said, adding that 76% of the businesses that participated were Black/indigenous/people of color-owned and 61% were women-owned.

“It’s really an attempt to level the playing field and we’re excited so many partners in Detroit see this as being an urgent challenge and believe providing technical assistance primarily to Black-owned businesses can have a meaningful impact,” he said.

The Black Technical Assistance Initiative is a cohort of ICIC's Inner City Capital Connections program offered in Detroit to small businesses from 2011 to 2013. During that time, the program graduated 171 small business owners who, according to ICIC, raised $129 million in capital, had 262% revenue growth and created 1,578 local jobs.

The newest initiative comes as Black-owned businesses deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Black business ownership declined 41% nationally during the height of the pandemic compared with 17% of white-owned businesses.

There are more than 49,000 Black-owned businesses in Detroit, accounting for 80% of the city's 62,000 small businesses, said Ken Harris, president and CEO of the National Business League.

"As a response to the severe impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Black businesses in the city of Detroit and nationally, it is important that our national organization provides measurable solutions in response to economic problems,” Harris said. 

Reginald Humphrey, General Motors’ director of DEI Partnerships, said supplier diversity is important in creating empowerment and equity within the business community.

"Our vision is to achieve equitable and sustainable supply chain inclusion goals that ensure long-term viability for our diverse supply base," he said. "Our mission is to serve as bridge builders, connecting an ecosystem of diverse suppliers, communities, advocacy organizations and customers."

Since 2005, ICIC has run 21 cohort programs in 21 markets in the U.S. and Canada. Grossman said that many of the participants are in industries including building trades and construction; food, beverage and hospitality, as well as health-related services.

“Even if they’re doing well, if they have some momentum, every business has a pain point or two or three,” he said. “Some are having problems because they’re short-staffed and they’re having trouble retaining workers so they need help with talent management and leadership development. Some are desperate for capital and even with (the Paycheck Protection Program) and a lot of the grant making programs, they still need help navigating a complicated capital stack. Others have issues with respect to a pivoting strategy.”

Businesses can apply at

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN