DENVER (AP) — When Courtney Samuel, who was born and raised in Denver, recalls memories of adolescence with her father, she thinks about construction.
As little Samuel cleaned up the sites, his father managed the construction work. The elder Samuel’s company eventually helped build the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library—the public library in Five Points, one of the capital city’s historically black neighborhoods.
What Samuel didn’t know then was that, blocked, he’d one day open his own business: Bodies by Perseverance, a fitness gym that offers personal training, boxing, and more, which celebrated its 18th anniversary in November.
Samuel, who now serves as his father’s caretaker, said, “Any entrepreneur must have perseverance, and that’s what I named my company.”
After his football career and a stint as a network engineer, Samuel decided to start a gym in his early 20s. However, the loan requirements were tougher than he imagined, and he was turned down by the bank. Instead, Samuel borrowed against his 401(k) plan to start his business.
He added that, while “any small-business owner is going to have trouble getting a loan,” entrepreneurs of color may run into an additional hurdle. Samuel said they are often unfamiliar with the loan programs available because they “are not invited to many of the rooms” where relevant discussions are taking place.
A recent LendingTree study ranked Denver as one of 10 US metropolitan areas with the lowest percentage of black-owned businesses, which “doesn’t come as a shock” to Samuel. Tied with Mile High City Boston is No. 6 on that bottom 10. Of the nearly 70,000 businesses in the Denver area, only 999, or 1.4%, are black-owned, the report determined after analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau. About 6% of the population of the Denver metropolitan area identifies as Black, it adds.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was identified as the metropolitan area with the lowest percentage of Black-owned businesses at 1%, while Fayetteville, North Carolina, topped the list at 11.2%.
The 10 areas with the highest percentages of Black-owned businesses were mostly concentrated in the South, ranging from 48% in Memphis, Tennessee, to 18% in St. Louis, Missouri, with large Black populations. Alternatively, the 10 areas with the fewest Black-owned occupations boasted a small black population, which was less than 10% of the general population at 16%, with the exception of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
According to the study, black individuals represent about 13% of the US population, but only 2.4% of US businesses are run by black owners. LendingTree’s chief credit analyst Matt Schulz described this as “clearly a significant difference.”
In terms of Denver’s performance, compared to the metropolitan area’s overall population, “the Black population is much smaller than other cities that we looked at,” Schultz said in a phone interview. Because of that, “the disparity between the black population and the percentage of black-owned businesses in Denver is really low.”
Still, business owners like Jesse Brown and Harsh Maragh of Denver’s Wah Gwan Brewing Company, continue to deal with obstacles, including access to funding.
“I’m very disappointed with the access to the capital here in the city, especially a city with a lot of diversity,” said Denver native and US Marine Brown.
“Getting funding for our brewery was a major obstacle, and it still is,” said Maragh, a first-generation Jamaican-American. The brewery’s name, “Wah Gwan,” means “what’s going on” in Jamaican Patois. Maragh aims to share her culture and “bring a little more diversity into the industry” through her business, she said in a phone interview.
Brewery owners are typically white men, with about 94% of owners identifying as white and about 76% as male, according to a 2021 survey of 500 random breweries, reports the Brewers Association.
“Even when it is Black History Month, Black-owned breweries and Black-owned businesses in general need to show more support and more investment and more love,” Maragh said, which is Black History Month.
But access to capital isn’t the only problem for black entrepreneurs, said Lee Gush-Maxi, executive director of the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce.
“Black, brown, Asian businesses – everyone needs more capital to run their business,” she said in a phone interview. “Any program that helps raise capital for small black businesses, we should be taking a look at it.”
He pointed to two initiatives taken by CBCC to give more opportunities to black entrepreneurs. The first partnership with the Colorado Enterprise Fund, a nonprofit lending organization, established a uniquely black business loan fund geared toward black-owned small businesses, Gush-Maxi said. The second partnership is with the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, which resulted in the “Building Success” program, a six-session training program that helps participants learn business models, marketing, financial management and more.
He added that the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce also gained “more members in 2021 than in the previous five years.”
Lorena Zimmer, who oversees special initiatives at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, called small-business starting and growing for Black and Latino residents “one of our top priorities” at Prosper CO. Launched in 2019, the Chamber, a joint initiative between Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation and the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation, works to identify and solve economic barriers, especially for women and people of color.
Zimmer said the community and nonprofits informed Prosper CO that areas most in need of improvement include access to financial capital, markets and social capital, which includes community networks and relationships that will help potential buyers. and turn to consultants. She mentioned a project to address those needs is under development: an online marketplace for businesses owned by Black, Indigenous, and people of color to list their information, which allows larger companies more ease than them. Will help you buy from
“We are well on our way to building a strong ecosystem of support for black entrepreneurs,” Zimmer said. “This is a community that wants to be more inclusive and more diverse by establishing a more equitable system.”
As for access to capital, “there’s money available,” said China Calif, director of the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, but acknowledged that “what’s available to you, and then applying for the right things and whatever you need.” Getting it to do so is a hindrance in many respects.”