Incubator launched to give Richmond’s Black entrepreneurs a boost

From left to right, Kelli Lemon, Rasheeda Creighton and Melody Short recently launched the Jackson Ward Collective to support Black entrepreneurs in the Richmond area. (Photo courtesy of Will Royé/The 123 Agency)

A trio of local business owners has unveiled a new incubator program aimed at supporting Black entrepreneurs.

The Jackson Ward Collective launched Sept. 14, offering resources for startups and more established companies.

The effort was founded by local Black business owners Rasheeda Creighton, Kelli Lemon and Melody Short. Creighton is the founder and CEO at consulting firm 3FiftyGroup. Lemon is the owner of downtown coffee shop Urban Hang Suite. Short is a co-owner of Richmond Night Market, a local vendors market and music series, and the membership and marketing coordinator at the Metropolitan Business League.

They’re betting they can leverage their backgrounds and connections to better address the needs of Black entrepreneurs than other business incubators and related programs in the area.

“For the Black community, it can be hard to take full advantage of programming that is targeted at you but is run by people who don’t look like you,” Creighton said.

Short said Black entrepreneurs frequently have little in the way of starting capital or a business network. Another hurdle is longstanding inequities and discrimination that make it difficult for budding Black businesses to secure bank loans or buy real estate, she said.

“Black entrepreneurs oftentimes are starting literally from scratch,” Short said. “There has been no business handed down to them or capital to get started for that matter.”

Jackson Ward Collective offers mentorship and networking opportunities, panel discussions as well as investment opportunities and other support. The group declined to name names behind the funding opportunities, and said public announcements would be made in the near future.

The incubator provides both in-house services and referrals to other resources. It also places a premium on networking and events to strengthen ties between members of the Black business community.

“You got to have someone who has your back if you’re going to do this,” Lemon said.

While the group has plans for in-person programming, it doesn’t plan to schedule any until the founders feel it’s safe to do so in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The group, as of last week, had 100 members, and it had room for about 50 more members to be part of its initial class, Short said.

Founding members include Will Royé of The 123 Agency, a video production company, and Rabia Kamara, owner of ice cream shop Ruby Scoops.

The collective charges about $200 for an annual membership and about $20 for a monthly membership, according to its website. Currently, it’s offering a promotional rate at half price.

The group doesn’t have a ceiling on total membership, and has plans to eventually have a statewide presence. They said it’s difficult to estimate how many Black-owned businesses there are in the region.

The incubator is a totally digital enterprise, though it would like to acquire an office space in the future. The group also wants to acquire additional real estate, not just for its own use but also to tee up property sales to Black businesses, Lemon said.

The group works alongside the city’s Office of Minority and Business Development, Metropolitan Business League, Virginia Community Capital and the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity.

The organization’s name is a reference to Jackson Ward’s historic status as a center of Black commerce and economic activity in the city.

A year in the making, the group’s founders said the launch comes at a key moment.

“Black businesses are facing (two) pandemics simultaneously … coupled with systemic challenges historically faced by Black businesses, making it more difficult to exist and thrive without community, financial and technical resources,” Short said. “We provide access to all.”

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C. Jay Robbins
C. Jay Robbins
1 year ago

I am fairly knowledgeable (or so I think) about Virginia history. I looked at the sign behind the three women in the picture and had never heard of a single fact, person, organization or event noted on the sign. A real gap in our collective historical education.