The Milwaukee Bucks are teaming up with the Lonely Entrepreneur, a New York-based non-profit, to give Black entrepreneurs free access to information, tools and the support they need to start or grow a business.
“Our announcement today is part of a commitment we’ve made here with the Milwaukee Bucks to continue to be engaged and supportive to the entrepreneurial community,” Arvind Gopalratnam, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility for the Milwaukee Bucks said. “Specifically, the Black and Brown entrepreneurial community in Wisconsin.”
The Lonely Entrepreneur, through the Bucks' partnership, will provide an unlimited number of free sign ups, for one year, for its entrepreneurial platform the Black Entrepreneur Initiative.
Entrepreneurs can sign up for free today here until Jan. 20.
“Dr. King shared one thing with all entrepreneurs - a dream. But Black men and women face social and economic injustices that make that dream difficult,” said Founder of The Lonely Entrepreneur Michael Dermer. “We want to thank the Milwaukee Bucks for giving the dreams of Black men and women a better chance of coming to life. We hope to make a lasting and significant impact on their lives and their communities.”
Dermer says the company got its name because of how isolating it can be to create a startup. For African American entrepreneurs, it can be even lonelier.
The Kauffman Foundation says 17.6 percent of Black entrepreneurs rely on personal credit cards to fund new companies; the most of any racial group. A Guidant Financial study says 41 percent of Black business owners get funding from their own cash reserves and another 13 percent say their funding comes from friends and family. Comparing that to the average, 32 percent use their own cash reserves and 12 percent ask friends and family.
For these reasons, getting a new business off the ground can be extremely difficult for budding Black entrepreneurs. While Dermer’s program doesn’t offer direct access to capital, it provides something more valuable than money; knowledge.
“Business plans, financial statements, putting those things together,” Dermer said. “How do you get prepared with a business model and financial statements and a pitch that gives you a better chance at getting access to capital. We’re also bringing new sources of capital. We have to teach everybody how to fish. How do we get them to understand, when asking for a bank loan, what do I need to do to be prepared for that?”
It’s these types of business strategies that got Marcell Jackson of Milwaukee excited to get involved.
“I heard about it today and I kind of got lost on the website,” Jackson said. “Looking at what was there, what was available. I signed up immediately and started listening on one of the courses.”
In 2016, Jackson started Professionally Developed, a career coaching and resume building business. He said he had the idea to get started on this in 2012, but didn’t know what to do.
“It was a little difficult getting off the ground because this was the first business I ever started,” Jackson said. “The biggest hurdles were the confidence to get started and understanding, I have the skillset. Then, the logistics of it. Where do I go? Where do I register? What do I need? A lot of it was being self-taught.”
Jackson says he grew up in a family that didn’t have experience in being an entrepreneur. He was trying to start from scratch. By signing up for this program, he’s able to create that network more quickly than he could have on his own.
“Having that community of different experts, I can go to speak with either live, a Q&A or the different courses they have,” Jackson said. “I’ve been in business for four years. A lot of that was the part of a solo entrepreneur. That’s the lonely part of it. All of those resources, that’s what excites me most. It’s just learning from other people and being connected to other motivated people.”
“A Black entrepreneur who makes it has a higher level of grit and determination than an entrepreneur like me,” Dermer said. “I graduated from Bucknell University and went to Northwestern Law School. I went through an entrepreneur journey that’s “hard” but you can’t understand. I have had the opportunity to meet Black leaders who can explain what it’s like.”
Through meeting these leaders, Dermer says he understood the privilege he had growing up in the upper middle class as a white male. It’s one of the biggest reasons he’s using his platform to help underserved communities.
“Talk about the idea of systemic racism,” Dermer said. “It’s not just somebody walking down the street and seeing the color someone's skin. The [entrepreneurial] foundations of capital, education and support don’t exist in the Black community.”
“Knowledge is huge,” Gopalratnam said. “The biggest equalizer in society is education. We believe the more we can decrease barriers only empowers more people to live out and pursue dreams. It’s fundamental to why we do this.”
Gopalratnam says, their focus is always Milwaukee and Wisconsin. Just last month, in partnership with the Brewers, Packers and Microsoft, started The Equity League, “an investment collaboration for social change.”
This project with The Lonely Entrepreneur goes bigger than that. The partnership is looking to attract Black entrepreneurs nationwide with the goal to help 100,000 Black entrepreneurs.
“There is an unbelievable amount of inequity that exists in our community,” Gopalratnam said. “Inequity certainly applies to those who are Black, Brown, minorities. Especially, for those trying to run businesses and provide for their families.”
The nationwide effort is something appreciated in the Bucks backyard.
“Any time we get resources diverted to Black entrepreneurs who are in desperate need of it, it’s a good thing for the businesses and the community in general,” Rick Banks, Executive Director of MKE Black said.
MKE Black is an advocacy group for Black businesses in our area. They have over 500 businesses they support. Banks says, he’s working to get them all involved in this initiative. While capital may be the biggest issue facing entrepreneurs of color in getting started, Banks says, this type of program being offered for free is invaluable.
“There are so many other aspects that come with running a business,” Banks said. “Accounting, bookkeeping, taxes, staff management, networking, marketing. All of these are essential to maintaining and running a business that a lot of folks need help with.”
Having this information will allow people like Jackson to have a seat at the table. The future generations of his family won’t say they don’t someone in their family they could look to for inspiration. He can now lead the way.
“As I learn and grow from other entrepreneurs, I can offer my services as well to share my insights so we can continue to build and grow,” Jackson said.
Those interested can sign up at The Lonely Entrepreneur website until Jan. 20.
The Lonely Entrepreneur is already partnering with three Wisconsin-based organizations, the Milwaukee Chapter of the National Black MBA Association, MKE Black, and the Madison Region Economic Partnership to receive foundational business-skill-building tools and resources to help them advance their businesses.