The Climate for Black-Owned Businesses
with Kelly Burton of the Black Innovation Alliance
Recent census data shows that Black-owned businesses in the U.S. generate over $200 billion in annual revenue, yet studies show that Black business owners continue to face barriers that can suppress development.
Kelly Burton, CEO of the Black Innovation Alliance, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the current climate for Black-owned businesses.
January 31, 2024
Anderson: In June of 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court declared affirmative action in higher education admissions to be unconstitutional. The ruling has trickled down to the business world, not only impacting the practice of considering race in hiring, but also grant-based funding programs based on race. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. The ruling is anticipated to further impact businesses, causing concern among Black entrepreneurs. Joining me to discuss the climate of Black-owned businesses today is Kelly Burton. She is the CEO of the Black Innovation Alliance. And, Kelly, thank you so much for being here.
Burton: Thank you, Tetiana, for having me.
Anderson: So, you work with innovators, and you say that you're working to protect these innovators from what you call misinformation campaigns against them. What is some of that misinformation? Can you share an example?
Burton: Of course. We feel that the biggest piece of misinformation, which is underlying the Supreme Court's decision, is this idea that we live in a race-neutral America, and that could not be further from the truth. There are reams of studies, reports -- we could fill a library full of them -- that make clear the implications of systemic and institutionalized racism against Black people and other people of color. And so, for us, it's really important that we not only address that idea, but the ideas that stem it, because it's really fueling this backlash that we see against racial-equity initiatives.
Anderson: So the misinformation that you just talked about is causing other challenges. What are they and how are you dealing with them?
Burton: The big challenge is that it's created this notion that any reference to race is unfair, not appreciating that there is a very specific journey that brought us here in this country. Legalized discrimination has always been unidirectional, in the direction of Black people and people of color. This notion of reverse racism is really a misnomer. There's no evidence to substantiate that reverse racism actually exists and impacts white people in any material way. And so a lot of what we are trying to really crystallize and clarify is this reality that racism still exists in this country, and we have to figure out how we get back to a point where everybody appreciates that that's our reality. In terms of the implications of it, we've seen with our members at Black Innovation Alliance. We have 116 organizations that support Black innovators and entrepreneurs. So these are your Black-led accelerators, incubators, venture studios, entrepreneur centers. And they're actually going through the process of, you know, scrubbing their websites for any reference to "Black" or a reference to people of color and having to pivot to disadvantaged communities or language that's more vague. There's a study that just came out that said 80% of corporate executives are doing the exact same thing, scrubbing their websites and their materials that reference any DEI initiatives. So what we're seeing is a total, like -- a swinging of the pendulum in the other direction coming out of the murder of George Floyd. There is a lot of goodwill and investment directed towards people of color, entrepreneurs of color, and we are seeing that swing the other direction.
Anderson: And you've got a very specific campaign that is taking all of this on. I want you to tell us about it.
Burton: Well, we're so excited about it, Tetiana. It's called The Clap Back, and it's grounded in hip-hop culture, and it is a quick response to unfair treatment. And we felt it was necessary to launch The Clap Back because after the Supreme Court ruling -- And then there was another incident in our ecosystem where a venture fund led by Black women, the Fearless Fund, was sued for a grant program. And so we realized that this -- there was this steady cadence of aggression directed towards our community and communities of color. And we felt it really important to stand up and fight back and really make it clear about how we arrived at a place where these sorts of programs are necessary. For instance, Fearless Fund is a venture firm, a Black-led venture firm, but less than 1% of venture funding goes to Black people. According to one study, last quarter, 0.3% of venture funding went to Black-led ventures and businesses. And so that's literally zero. [ Chuckles ] So a fund that emerged to provide some corrective solutions to the system is being sued for being discriminatory. At this point, discrimination just means that you are referencing race and you're race-explicit. It's not really speaking to the harm that's behind it.
Anderson: What kind of impact would you say that B.I.A. has had on all of these issues that you just talked about since the organization started? And where do you plan to take your movement in the future?
Burton: B.I.A. is a young organization, but we've grown really rapidly. We launched in June of 2020, in the midst of racial uprising and COVID quarantines, and in a very short time, we've grown very, very rapidly. We've done a lot over that period. But a couple of things that I'll lift up. Number one, we helped to launch the Congressional Caucus on Black Innovation, which really helps us to center this conversation around Black innovation on the Hill. And more recently, we launched the BLADE Blueprint. And "BLADE" stands for Black Liberation And the Digital Economy. And it's a focus on Black digital entrepreneurs. As far as we know, it's the very first study on digital entrepreneurship. And the findings really blew us away. The big takeaways are, number one, Black digital businesses are more likely to achieve profitability than compared to all businesses, not just Black businesses. They are more sustainable, and they are more likely to create a quality, comfortable lifestyle for the owner. And so for us, that's a major proof point that digital is a potential leveler in closing this 228-year racial wealth gap. At B.I.A., we know that entrepreneurship is the number-one creator of wealth, and so if we have any shot of closing that wealth gap, we're going to have to double, triple down on Black entrepreneurship.
Anderson: I know people are going to want to know a lot more about your work. What is the website? Where can they look?
Burton: The best place to find all things Black Innovation Alliance is at blackinnovationalliance.com. They'll be able to find the BLADE report, our Clap Back campaign, and anything else you want to know about B.I.A. They can also follow us on social -- @buildwithBIA.
Anderson: Kelly Burton with the Black Innovation Alliance. Thank you for being here.
Burton: Thank you, Tetiana.
Anderson: And thanks to you, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com I'm Tetiana Anderson.