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Help for Minority Entrepreneurs

Although minorities represent roughly 27% of the U.S. population, minority-owned outfits represent just 14% of U.S. businesses. The new Urban Entrepreneurship Partnership (UEP), which began work this fall, is seeking to change that. A partnership between the National Urban League, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and the Small Business Administration, the UEP is providing advice, counseling, and access to capital for minority entrepreneurs in five pilot locations -- Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Kansas City. The organization's "economic empowerment centers" aim to serve as one-stop shops for those looking to start a business. BusinessWeek Online reporter Erin Chambers recently spoke with Daryl Williams, director of the Kauffman Foundation's minority entrepreneurship initiatives, who is helping launch UEP. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

Q: The participating organizations in the UEP -- the Urban League, Kauffman Foundation, and the SBA -- all have programs to stimulate and support minority entrepreneurship. What is the goal in banding them all together in one partnership?

A:. I think the Urban League was doing mostly job-creation and things like that. I think it's new for them to get into the area of entrepreneurial training, and I think it's a good fit for them. At the Kauffman Foundation, we're providing the actual expertise, training, and the history of entrepreneurship. We've been doing training programs, research, and curriculum development for a long time, and that's what we bring to the table.

Q: Logistically, how will different groups work together to bring practical solutions to urban minority entrepreneurs?

A: One of the training components is our Fast Track program. The whole idea is to create one-stop shops around the country, and we're starting with the five pilot cities. We're trying to offer training, what we call "intrusive coaching," and financing all in the same house.

Q: How will current business leaders be involved?

A: We're asking everybody to join with us in this effort. That's what the Business Roundtable is: CEOs around the country -- and hopefully they'll be engaged at that level. They can become trainers, coaches, and everybody's welcome to come in and participate.

Q: Why were these five cities chosen as inaugural sites for the UEP?

A: Part of the reason these cities were chosen was that they were already identified as having some of the infrastructure we need to develop these kinds of programs. And we chose Kansas City because the Kauffman Foundation is based here.

Q: What resources are available in the empowerment centers?

A: It's still in development, but the idea goes something like this: We know that in many communities, there are a lot of resources to provide assistance and training to minority entrepreneurs. How can we look and do a resource-mapping of what's available in a community, and then create...a critical path of success for entrepreneurs? [We aim to] give entrepreneurs a coach -- kind of like a business psychiatrist -- that holds them accountable, that navigates them through the service-delivery organizations that are out there, and can then present them to the financing mechanism.

The coach's responsibility is to know what the financing mechanisms require, build that relationship, and understand how to get the clients ready for that organization. So that when you go before that organization, you have all your Is dotted and your Ts crossed.

You have to look in your community and say, "What do entrepreneurs need during their development?" Then you look in your community and see who is providing that kind of training or that service. Then you go out and assess the quality of those services. And then with the coaching session, the coaches need to have that database at their fingertips. If you're starting a business, you negotiate with your coach about your objectives, then the coach identifies what you need to do in terms of training to get the financing, then pulls out a critical path and says, "Here are the places that you need to go to get that training."

And we're going to hold aspiring business owners accountable every two weeks or three weeks to make sure you're doing what you're supposed to doing -- a kind of social contract between the coach and the entrepreneur. At the end of the process, when you complete your training, the coach takes you to the financing mechanism, and you receive your financing. But we also have post-financing coaching.

Q: Is the UEP a permanent program, and is growth planned in the future?

A: We hope it's a permanent set up. These five cities are a pilot. We're in the works now to figure out how to make it self-sufficient. The goal is to have these as permanent sites in minority areas around the country.

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