The world of business has a long history of oppressing small businesses and putting a heavy burden on low-income communities. Yet despite the odds being stacked against us, Black business owners, particularly women, are out here thriving. According to Fortune, Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States. With the arrival of 2.4 million Black, female businesses in 2018, Black women are now the "only racial group with more business ownership than their male peers." We stan a #BossQueen!
But the fight for equal rights and opportunities doesn't stop there, fam — we must actively support our entrepreneurial sisters. Educator and social entrepreneur, Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon, is all too familiar with the importance of supporting small, Black-owned businesses. As the founder and CEO of The Village Market, Dr. Hallmon's mission is to "support the sustainability of socially conscious, community-minded, Black entrepreneurs and Black-owned startups." Since launching her community-driven initiative in 2016, The Village Market has provided small, Black-owned businesses with over $600,000 in wealth to circulate back into our communities.
I had the pleasure to speak with Dr. Hallmon on what inspired her to create The Village Market, how the Black community can generate wealth back into our communities, and why it's important to provide small, Black business owners with a platform to reach a wider audience.
- Check out our exclusive interview with Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon below.
Photo: The Village Market
21Ninety: How did the concept for The Village Market come to be? What inspired you to create a community for Black entrepreneurs and Black-owned startups?
Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon: The concept for The Village Market came three years ago. I was teaching empowerment classes at a local women-owned coffee shop called Urban Grind — I was teaching these classes monthly on entrepreneurship, development, holistic living, balance, education classes for parents — and from those classes, I was able to engage the community and build a rather active audience. I learned that a lot of people who were attending my classes were entrepreneurs. After my fourth class, I asked the audience how many were entrepreneurs and about 80% of them raised their hand. So I asked them, if I created something that would give them more exposure would they be interested and it was an overwhelming "yes." But I already decided before I asked that question, what I thought was missing in Atlanta was a very engaged, authentic experience of Black entrepreneurship, meetings, engaged, active, buying audience. But teaching those classes helped me authenticate what I was doing and also build a presence of entrepreneurs.
I just wanted The Village Market to be a place where entrepreneurs could get exposure, but to also be embraced with excitement, support, and just a thorough event where we didn't forget any piece of entrepreneurship. So you can have makers, service providers, youth entrepreneurs, and elder entrepreneurs all in the same space. And that's what The Village Market is.
Photo: The Village Market
21N: According to your website, "African American buying power is currently 1.1 Trillion, and yet only 2 cents of every dollar an African American spends in this country goes to Black-owned businesses." Why is it important to provide small, Black-owned businesses with a platform to reach a wider audience and regenerate that wealth back into our community?
DLH: The only way that we can grow our communities is by generating money. The only way we can get families to not leave their community is by creating money and wealth streams in communities. For Black entrepreneurs, they're typically spaced out in multiple communities. And most times, residents have no idea who their neighbors are or even if their neighbors are business owners. I knew that if I could get the businesses in one place together, specifically in Atlanta, if I could gather them, then I could expose all the many different businesses that we have who are operating in excellence. As a buyer, you know directly that your money is going back into a Black household, feeding a Black family and paying a Black mortgage. That's necessary if we want to rebuild our community and if we want to make gentrification work for us — we can't do it without money.
21N: In addition curating The Village Market, you also host a quarterly event that offers Black vendors the opportunity to sell their products. What qualities do you look for in the application for these Black businesses to attend the event?
DLH: We go through an extensive vetting process to select entrepreneurs. On average, we have about 600 businesses applying for each showcase. The first thing I'm looking for is some type of social presence that is linked to an e-commerce site. My goal is for businesses not to only make money at The Village Market quarterly, I need them to be able to sustain outside of The Village Market. We also are always looking for hi-resolution photos that sell their products visually. And then I have another team that canvases their personal pages to ensure that their businesses are also engaged within their community. Circulation only works if businesses are also circulating their dollars as well. So we look to connect with social entrepreneurs who are very community-mindful and who are affirming positive messages because my goal is to control the narrative of what it means to be Black-excellent, and an entrepreneur.
Photo: The Village Market
21N: You also host a bi-monthly master class on entrepreneurship and community development. For Black, female owners just starting out, what courses do you recommend for them to begin with?
DLH: The first class we encourage businesses to attend is the Fundamentals of Starting Your Business. In those classes, we focus on making sure you have the correct business license. Most businesses defer to sole proprietorship, and we teach LLCs and so forth. So that's the first class, and then each class builds upon the next. Then we teach how to develop a solid business plan that's scalable and can attract you to potential investors. After that, then we look at legal affairs and accounting. But every class builds upon the next class.
21N: We’re thrilled to have you curate our collection for small businesses at this year’s Summit21! What was your process for selecting these small businesses?
DLH: I'm really excited to be curating the Small Business Row! My responsibility as a community partner will be to have a diverse representation of women-owned, Black-owned businesses in Atlanta. My team and I have worked to curate the show to make sure that it's diverse and that the women have sold products that my team and I believe will actually fit the target market for the conference.
21N: It's going to be so dope to give these businesses a platform.
DLH: Yeah! I'm really, really excited. We called each small business that we chose and to hear them scream about it was exciting. We always try to do things on that Oprah kind of level [laughs], and it's fun to offer that joy.
Photo: The Village Market
21N: What has been the most rewarding aspect since launching The Village Market?
DLH: You know, I actually have a reason to cry every single day. I get overwhelmed with so many emails and direct messages from businesses who have been able to quit their jobs, and businesses who are just excited to apart of The Village. I'm never short of thank you's. Though businesses make a great deal of money participating at The Village Market — that makes me proud — but the human-to-human connections I've made in Atlanta just overwhelms my heart. If you name a business, I know who this person is. I know how long they've had their business. I know their pain points as a business owner. And I also get a chance to attend some business owners' weddings. They invite to their anniversary parties. All of this is just so extremely special.
21N: What can we expect to see from The Village Market in 2019?
DLH: Hopefully, more opportunities like this and more national exposure. We were a very local company three years ago, and we've grown so much nationally. We have about 17-18 different states represented in the marketplace, which again is very special, but I'd love to attract even more states to come to Atlanta and grow a global village. We're also working on international partnerships to take The Village abroad — those conversations and trips have been very meaningful to me. But more national exposure, more excellence, more Black entrepreneurship, greater circulation of the dollar, and just continuation of getting better.
21N: Do you have any final words of advice or encouragement for small-business owners struggling to their businesses off the ground?
DLH: What I tell myself every single day is that all things are working together for the greater good. And you can't have anything unless you start it. So start and mess up. Start over again. Get yourself some really good friends around you. Take care of yourself physically. Take care of yourself emotionally and mentally so you can be ready for all the good things that are going to come once you actually create your own thing.
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