Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of reports from TechWire examining the impact of COVID-19 on minority-owned businesses and efforts to provide relief.

RALEIGH – Johnny Hackett is a all about maximizing the black dollar, especially now during hard times.

A process architect for Wells Fargo by day, the 36-year-old Raleigh local used his tech background to launch #BlackDollarNC last year – an online “rolodex” of more than 400 black-owned or operated businesses across the state.

As COVID-19 wreaks havoc of the global economy and hits local black-owned businesses even harder, he’s been working overtime at #BlackDollarNC to help support them. He is one of several local groups looking to make up for the equity gap in relief funding.

His first mission: getting cash into hands of businesses, like barber shops and nails salons, that were the first to shut their doors and still remain closed.

Johnny Hackett posses with founders of Univeristy Closet at Cute As A Button event sponsored by #BlackDollarNC.

Through a separate entity, #Raleigh19, his network set a fund for professional groomers — the Raleigh Community Groomers Fund — raising more than $5,000 to distribute among 51 businesses.

“Unlike restaurants, professional groomers have been completely shut down as a result of stay at home orders and the inability to offer curbside or delivery of services,” he said. “Additionally, professional groomers are prevented from performing services in-home, so this creates a complete shut down of this industry. This is a situation that impacts all businesses in this industry, but we definitely have a wealth of black owned businesses in this sector.”

On a separate front, he’s putting black buying power to work for the community through ecommerce, helping  vendors sell their wares. It’s called Project: L!ve, an online streaming feed that promotes and sells products for small business owners and entrepreneurs — for free.

“A lot of African American business owners do start from behind the starting line. There are always opportunities to be stronger together, network together, support each other a little bit more,” Hackett said.

On the front lines

Katie Gailes, director of Wake Technical Community College’s Entrepreneurship Initiatives, is also working on the ground to keep underserved companies stay afloat in the Triangle.

The group established a Rally Fund and raised $160,000 in grants to support around 70 businesses. Wells Fargo, the City of Raleigh, and Wake Tech all contributed to the fund.

LaunchWakeCounty graduates and active Wake Tech Small Business Center clients were invited to apply, and approved companies received amounts from $500 – $3,000.

“These small financial awards typically will not totally carry a business through an extended downturn,” she said. “However, they will hold them until other benefit programs kick in or until they are able to adapt and pivot their business to the new situation.”

She says there are several reasons for the equity gap.

Minority and woman-owned businesses tend to be lower-resourced that white male-owned businesses during the best of times.  “Therefore, in a situation like this, they do have lower cash reserves, if any, or borrowing power.”

They most likely also don’t have anyone with deep pockets in their corner.

“Angel and venture investors are predominantly white and predominantly male. They are more likely to invest in businesses owned by people who look like them and prefer highly scalable investments. These types of businesses are mostly IT and biopharma.”

Even though the initial funds have all been allocated, Wake Tech is still accepting donations.

“People who want to help small businesses can donate as little as $25,” Gailes said. “As you can imagine, there is a lot of dust in the air with all of the local, state, and federal assistance programs.  We know that, once the dust settles, additional areas of need will be become visible. We will assess how and when another allocation occurs based on identified areas of need and available additional funds.”

Google offers webinars

Grow with Google is also hosting a series of free webinars targeting entrepreneurs who are looking to pivot online or go digital.

The program is especially focused on helping Black and Latinx small businesses grow.

Designed to boost skills and inspire confidence in business owners, the series is focusing on fundamental topics like getting businesses listed on Search and Maps, as well as more advanced topics like design thinking.

  • Optimize Your Energy for High Performance – May 26
  • Design Thinking for Entrepreneurs – May 30
  • Get Your Business Online and PR Strategies For Small Businesses

Hosted by Grow with Google Digital Coach Latesha Byrd who is based in Charlotte, the series launched on May 13 in the Queen City and the Triangle with 85 attendees.

Black-led businesses getting shut out of PPP loan program, owners and experts say