SBA leader highlights partnership with Black Greek organizations

U.S. Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman during a Friday stop in metro Atlanta commended the work her agency has done with Black Greek organizations and for Black entrepreneurs.

“We want to ensure that our economy is inclusive,” Guzman said to a room full of multiple generations of men dressed in brown and gold, brothers of Iota Phi Theta, Inc. The members of the historic Black fraternity are holding their 39th Biennial Conclave in Dunwoody this week.

Guzman’s stop came a little more than a year after the Small Business Administration (SBA) began partnering with the National PanHellenic Council, an organization of historically Black fraternities and sororities commonly known as the “Divine Nine,” of which Iota Phi Theta is a part.

The SBA is using the partnership to bolster Black entrepreneurship in this country because the Divine Nine “is a powerful network,” Guzman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Each of the fraternities and sororities is connected to SBA district offices and resource partners for joint trainings, sharing information between the agency and the organizations.

At Friday’s meeting, Guzman detailed the resources that small business owners can receive from the SBA’s development centers. She explained how entrepreneurs could become a part of the agency’s government contracting program and she highlighted the capital the SBA provides through innovation grants, business loans and disaster assistance.

In metro Atlanta, 7.4% of businesses are owned by African Americans. A report from online loan marketplace LendingTree found that the Atlanta region has the highest rate of Black-owned businesses in the United States. Nationally, 2.4% of employer businesses are Black-owned, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of census data shows.

And looking at just the city of Atlanta, the rate of Black businesses is a lot higher: about 20% of the city’s businesses are Black-owned, according to economic development authority Invest Atlanta.

For Iota Phi Theta and other Divine Nine members, the partnership with the SBA is intended to make qualifying for certain funding or business status easier.

“The SBA recognized that in the United States, probably the most prominent group of potential small Black business owners are members of Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities, because so many of us already owned businesses, but we may not have felt comfortable going through the formal SBA process,” said Walter L. Fields, director of communications for Iota Phi Theta.

For local small business owners, the SBA’s Georgia district office is in Atlanta. The agency has also partnered with other organizations in metro Atlanta to provide resources, like the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, the Urban League, Morehouse College and the International Rescue Committee. In late 2021, the IRC received a grant of $800,000 from the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program. In collaboration with other DeKalb-based, immigrant-serving nonprofits – the Latin American Association, the Refugee Women’s Network and the Somali American Community Center – it supported 318 diverse small businesses with free business counseling, technical assistance, and help filling out applications for loans and grants.

Over the past two years, the SBA has also deepened its work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including opening a Women’s Business Center at Savannah State University in April 2022.

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