Atlanta-based accounting firm Aprio hosted an entrepreneurship panel inside its Brookhaven headquarters Thursday evening, intended to motivate Black business owners to find innovative ways to earn capital funding for their ventures.

The conversation featured three career professionals, who spoke about their rises in business and the decisions they made to garner success within their respective industries.

Black businesses are placed at a significant disadvantage when it comes to finding funding to expand their efforts. According to data released at the event, Black companies collectively across the United States could acquire over $1 trillion in potential revenue if provided access to financial resources similar to those accessed by their non-Black counterparts. The panel’s host, Aprio’s Partner of Transaction Advisory Services Cardell McKinstry, said conversations like these are necessary to propel Black business owners to more lucrative positions.

Shila Nieves Burney, founder of Zane Venture Fund and one of the evening’s panelists, argued that the revenue gap was much wider, and said that much of her work involves finding solutions to shrink this gap for minority business owners.

“We don’t invest in Black businesses, and other underrepresented minorities,” Burney said. “We’re leaving that money on the table.”

Each speaker talked about their experiences within their respective fields, the resources that helped them in their business pursuits and the “keys to success” that proved most beneficial throughout their entrepreneurship journeys long-term. 

George Azih, founder and CEO of accounting software company LeaseQuery, said that his venture formed from a need he came across while working as an accountant for a Fortune 500 company. 

“What I saw was that there was lease management software and lease extraction software, but there was no lease accounting software,” Azih said. “If we have this problem, then odds are there’s also other companies that have the same problem.”

Burney said she turned to entrepreneurship after longing for an opportunity to work for herself, following years of working in journalism, public health and education. She pursued a career in venture capital as a way to level the playing field for traditionally marginalized business owners. 

“I’m trying to unlock this $4 trillion that we’re leaving on the table because we don’t invest in these companies who have scalable businesses, but don’t have access to capital. Part of what they don’t have is the networks to get that capital,” Burney said. “There are closed networks that we’re not invited to, there are rooms where people are hand-shaking and you got $10 million; we don’t have that access.”

In terms of resources, Burney also said the connections she made with experts in the venture capital field helped place her in rooms and conversations she wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. She linked with venture capital expert Sig Mosely early on in her transition into entrepreneurship, who invested in her fund and serves as her mentor to this day.

“Having someone like that who’s been there, done it, sort of vouch for you in rooms that probably I won’t go in – that’s incredibly important,” Burney said.

As a piece of advice, Azih said entrepreneurs should focus on making financial decisions that will best benefit their companies, as opposed to choices that will appeal to their ego or self-interest.

“You’re going to do one of two things: you’re going to build your personal brand, or you’re going to build your company,” Azih said. “Choose one.”

Dolan Falconer, co-founder and chairman of ScanTech Sciences, also said for entrepreneurs to keep their companies’ best interests in mind when working with investors, mentioning that not all capital will impact their businesses positively. On the topic of inclusion, he said that the negotiation rooms he’s entered over the years are slowly diversifying with time.

“We have a lot of people like yourselves that are sitting on the other side of the table,” Falconer said. “Firms are hiring people that look like me because they understand the value of opposition and being able to invest in these companies.”