At One Million Cups of Columbia, the ideas are flowing just as fast as the coffee. Every Wednesday morning at Cromer’s, One Million Cups of Columbia, created and supported by the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, hosts a “coffee conversation” with the purpose of giving entrepreneurs support and exposure while fostering the growth of the startup community.
On Wednesday, February 22, 2017, in honor of Black History Month, One Million Cups of Columbia focused on the challenges and opportunities of being a minority entrepreneur. A panel of four distinguished entrepreneurs was chosen including Christian rap and recording artist, Kevin Felder (“Big Redd”), creative director of the Nia Theatre Company and Story Squad, Darion McCloud, multidisciplinary visual artist and consultant, Michaela Pilar Brown, and owner of Hacker Ferret Software and member of the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator, Terrance Smith.
Although this panel has experienced a significant amount of success, it was not without struggle. “Columbia feels like a big lock,” says McCloud, “and you are searching for the right key.” The panel highlighted some of these “keys” and especially how they pertain to minorities and their struggles.
“We have tons of things we want to do that we are unable to do right now because we don’t have the money,” says McCloud. Many minority business owners face difficulties in raising sufficient funds. Felder discussed non urban dictate in radio and how certain companies “don’t want to invest in minority entrepreneurs” by refusing to advertise on rap, gospel, or hip hop stations. The visual arts also struggle with this bias. “Less than ten percent of all major museum shows involve women or people of color,” says Brown. Without the visibility of their art, it is difficult for these artists to financially support themselves. “Self producing is challenging,” exclaims Smith, and lack of funding minority entrepreneurs face makes it even more of a struggle.
“Inclusion is not only about a feel good,” states McCloud, “it’s about a bottom line.” “Racially, Columbia is almost split down the middle,” says McCloud, and when the black community is not included “half the city is sitting on the sidelines.” There is an obvious market in this currently sidelined community that companies could tap into if they practiced inclusion, boosting both a revenue and a “feel good.”
Diversity is not about having a certain race or gender just for the sake of checking a box. Felder understands this distinction and is “deliberate about having a diverse team”. Felder bases his diversity off experience, which “in turn diversifies with different racial backgrounds.” Diversifying a business helps both parties, it gives minorities opportunities, and grows companies by having different perspectives. In order to achieve this diversity, Brown urges companies to “hire outside of the traditional networks.”
“When you go to a cattle call, there would be ninety nine white people and one black person,” says McCloud, “now there is eight, but twenty years ago there was only one.” While our community is still struggling with equality, there has been immense growth in recent years. These weekly “education sessions” give the public, not just entrepreneurs, the opportunity to learn and grow, so the complicated lock of Columbia can soon be opened and equal.
Join One Million Cups of Columbia every Wednesday from 9am-10am at Cromer’s on Huger Street.
Watch the full length 1MC Panel Discussion Here: