Accounting firm Aprio hosted the second installment of its series of panels on minority business ownership Tuesday evening, connecting small-scale Black entrepreneurs and investors with the capital and mentorship opportunities needed to expand their ventures.

The event brought together Atlanta-based business professionals experienced in offering funding to developing companies, for a panel discussion on breaking into larger markets, ending with a one-on-one fireside chat with former Atlanta mayor and civil rights icon, Ambassador Andrew Young.

Each guest speaker on the first panel talked about their experiences in lending and accumulating capital, and how their current companies work with smaller businesses to stimulate their growth.

Tony Hilliard, private bank market executive for Bank of America, said it’s important to consider the character of minority- and women-owned businesses requesting assistance, in order to match them with the resources best suited for their models of operations. He also said minority business owners should broaden their horizons and get creative with their methods of entrepreneurship as a way to make up for lost profits and time generated by systemic inequality.

“I think we have the opportunity that exists going forward to think differently about the businesses that are possible, and where we can lend into situations that we probably wouldn’t have done because we don’t have the legacy of a few generations that have taken over a business,” Hilliard said. “What we’re thinking about now is, ‘How do we foundationally think about the future of lending?’ And that, to me, has a broader DEI lens than we’ll probably have ever experienced.”

The federal government also has a hand in supporting minority-owned businesses in their financial pursuits. Through a series of programs and other resources, the Georgia Minority Business Development Agency Business Center, located inside the Georgia Institute of Technology, offers assistance to growing ventures generating a minimum of $500,000 annually.

Jennifer Pasley, project director at the Georgia MBDA, said the organization’s accommodation strategies aren’t one-size-fits-all for its clients, and that meeting companies where they are in their entrepreneurial journeys is necessary in helping them expand physically and financially. 

“What we learned is that a company can complete an application and submit it to a financial institution and be denied. Take that same application to another institution, and it is approved,” Pasley said. “So, we have learned that it’s not a cookie cutter situation. Every situation is unique.”

Kenneth Saffold, co-founder of minority-owned investment firm o15 Capital Partners, said that focusing on funding ventures dedicated to bringing about social, racial and gender equality is crucial to the firm’s mission.  

“You need to have capital in order to participate in capitalism,” Saffold said. “[The] 1800s ‘capital’ was land. Today, we think that by investing in these types of businesses, we’re providing capital for them to thrive and flourish and for them to ultimately be successful.”

All panelists also acknowledged the importance of networking as entrepreneurs working to expand their businesses.

Pasley added that entrepreneurs should take advantage of funding opportunities granted by public and private entities left untouched following the course of the pandemic. She also said to surround yourself with intelligent financial advisors and educate yourself on the monetary resources available at your disposal.

“It’s important to know what you don’t know,” Pasley said.

During his panel, Young discussed Atlanta’s evolution since his time in office, as well as his investment in the Black-owned digital banking platform, Greenwood.

Greenwood, a financial technology company co-founded by Atlanta-based rapper and activist Killer Mike, gives users a space to save and invest their money in a way that directly benefits minority communities. The venture, named after the historic African American district located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, commonly referred to as ‘Black Wall Street’, intends to circulate wealth within the Black and Latinx communities in a fashion similar to that seen within the Midwestern landmark at its prime.

Ambassador Young joined the project by the time its launch was announced in 2020, citing a desire to address widespread poverty as a reason for getting involved.

“I don’t know anything about money,” Young said. “I know people, and I know human need. And I think that’s my role.”

Young also said that the current generation of entrepreneurs has the chance to positively impact the world in more ways than the civil rights leaders of the 1950s and 1960s by building upon the framework they established.

“I’m trying to invite you or let you know that whether you like it or not, you are part of the same movement that I’ve spent my life in,” Young said. “Only you’re in a [financial position] to end poverty, and you’ve got a job.”