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Shifting the System to Empower Underrepresented Entrepreneurs

Increasing access to capital and resources for women and BIPOC-led businesses

Enterprises led by overlooked founders represent a serious investment opportunity. In 2021, women started 49% of new businesses in the U.S. at a rate of more than 1,800 new businesses a day. Half of those women-owned businesses were led by women of color. The nearly 13 million woman-owned businesses generate $1.9 trillion in revenue each year, and they employ 9.4 million people.​

Entrepreneurship has long helped make America dynamic, and business ownership is a proven way for people of color to grow wealth after centuries of practices and policies enacted to prevent them from doing so. “Research shows that entrepreneurs of color have a net worth 10 to 12 times greater than their non-entrepreneurial peers,” says entrepreneurial ecosystem expert Dell Gines. “Entrepreneurship is key to building lasting wealth and creating a sense of place in communities.”

Despite their businesses being the fastest-growing segments of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, women, Black, and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC), and other underrepresented business owners don’t have the same access to resources for success. Across the U.S., the wealth and impact created by entrepreneurship remain largely concentrated in the hands of a homogenous few. Folks outside of that generally white and male profile face additional barriers despite doing more with less. Too many resources focus on ‘fixing’ underrepresented entrepreneurs without recognizing it’s the system that needs to change.

Project DEEP course facilitator Kimmy Paluch

Project DEEP course facilitator Kimmy Paluch

Meet Project DEEP

Project DEEP: Developing Equitable Economies Program is a multi-pronged initiative including a new series of free video courses designed to accelerate the growth of underrepresented entrepreneurs. Led by the Sorenson Impact Center, the project aims to disrupt the entrepreneurial ecosystem status quo by connecting entrepreneurs and a new class of intentional investors into a supportive network of knowledge- and resource-sharing.

The aim of Project DEEP is to both directly support overlooked entrepreneurs and more broadly shift the burden of change to the ecosystem decision-makers who can influence entrepreneur success. Too much in our current entrepreneurial ecosystem isn’t working for the increasingly diverse modern entrepreneur, and there is a significant opportunity cost in not remedying this.

Project DEEP course facilitator Dell Gines

Project DEEP course facilitator Dell Gines

Project DEEP offers a set of six complimentary, on-demand video courses on entrepreneurship, investing, and ecosystem building led by proven subject matter experts. Course facilitators include an impressive array of world-class leaders in the space, including Beta Boom Managing Partner Kimmy Paluch, national economic development expert Dell Gines, and Womenpreneurs Co-founder and investor Rose Maizner.

Perhaps the best thing about Project DEEP is the world-class experts featured in each of these courses. They were carefully selected because of their extensive expertise in the content, and also because they have lived experience with the challenges Project DEEP aims to solve. Our experts reflect the communities we aim to serve.

Shifting the Ecosystem

Three Project DEEP courses focus on tactical topics for entrepreneurs, and three focus on shifts for stakeholders that can influence entrepreneurs’ success, including investors, economic developers, and entrepreneur support organizations. The courses set forth a vision of how our world could be different and how values should translate into practices. We hope participants walk away with actions they can take immediately to improve their business and profession — and a renewed commitment to creating more equitable economies.

In the current U.S. entrepreneurial ecosystem, inequities persist across investment, lending, network access, technical assistance, and more. Take funding, for example: On the debt side, the average loan amount in 2020 was 33% lower for women-owned businesses, while on the equity side, less than 2% of venture capital goes to female-founded firms and less than 3% goes to Black or Latinx founders. Disparities like this at all levels of the entrepreneurial ecosystem drive wealth gaps that will continue to grow unless there is a change in the system.

Project DEEP is funded by the Economic Development Administration, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and the Sorenson Impact Foundation. The project also included additional components, such as a community partnerships program funding Utah-based entrepreneur support organizations Women’s Business Center of Utah and New Pattern, and an impact measurement component. The initiative builds on the Sorenson Impact Center’s prior work around equitable entrepreneurship locally and nationally. Its pioneering 2018 landscape analysis report reviewed challenges and opportunities for small businesses owned by women and people of color in Utah and provided concrete recommendations for better supporting historically marginalized entrepreneurs.

Megan Brewster is a Senior Manager at the Sorenson Impact Center. She currently leads several projects with government and philanthropic partners across the issue areas of equity in education, entrepreneurship, and economic development. She also manages strategic partnerships, content strategy, and storytelling efforts. Megan’s career has centered on supporting underserved ... Read more

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