In response to the pandemic’s devastating impact on minority-owned businesses and the social justices that mainstream America woke up to last year, JPMorgan Chase announced a five-year $30 billion commitment in October 2020 to provide economic opportunity to Black and Latinx communities. That commitment to Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) includes greater access to capital, coaching, technical assistance and a pledge to boost spending with Black and Latinx suppliers by an additional $750 million.
As the head of Advancing Black Pathways, a strategy aimed at strengthening the economic foundation of the Black community, Byna Elliott plays a crucial role in putting that $30 billion to work. While at first glance, JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways (ABP) may appear to be another corporate initiative that cynics may cite as window-dressing on the heels of BLM, it’s worth mentioning that it predates the movement by more than a year. While supporting minority-owned businesses is a big part of ABP, it also looks to improve the financial health of these communities and advance career opportunities for diverse talent.
ABP grew out of a 2018 conversation between Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase’s chairman and CEO, and Thasunda Duckett, now president of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA). Dimon requested that Duckett works with the JPMorgan team to help them develop initiatives to address the racial wealth gap. ABP and its three components – education, entrepreneurship and financial health – came out of those discussions. “Dimon felt that the largest bank in the country ought to have a role in addressing the racial wealth gap and really lead from the front and bring our partners along and be very intentional,” says Elliott.
On the entrepreneurship front, ABP looks to address the lack of access to capital and other issues disproportionately challenging diverse entrepreneurs. Among the solutions: JPMorgan Chase invested about $42 million earlier this year to support the ecosystem around its Entrepreneurs of Color Fund and committed to investing an initial $50 million in Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). “We’ve doubled that commitment, and we’re going to end the year with $120 million invested in equity capital and other tools with Minority Depository Institutions,” says Elliott. “We know that if we can scale them, they can also be part of the ecosystem around providing capital. We’ll also be launching products and services around easier ways to access capital through JPMorgan Chase directly.”
While capital access is one of the challenges that ABP looks to address, the program also offers mentorship and technical assistance to help entrepreneurs grow and manage their enterprises and become eligible for traditional bank capital. To that end, ABP partners with the National Urban League, the National Minority Supplier Development Council, and the US Black Chamber of Commerce on Advancing Black Entrepreneurs. This program was created to help provide those soft skills around getting a venture ready for capital – improving credit scores, having the proper accounts set up, understanding balance sheets and financial statements, knowing the cost of goods sold, profitability, etc. “Minorities are declined twice as fast as our majority counterparts,” says Elliott. “We want to make sure that when you do apply, you don’t get a no.”
Jennifer Lyle, who heads up Detroit-based Lush Yummies Pie Co. Lyle, began participating in Advancing Black Pathways about four months ago. Lyle, who turned her grandfather’s pie recipes into a growing business with ten employees and an approximate 3,000-square-foot production facility, has received mentorship, financial guidance through the program. Lush Yummies Pie Co. also benefited substantially from a marketing perspective. “They’re really helping to grow my business from a financial standpoint and introducing me to a lot of opportunities,” she says. “We just participated in a campaign where I was able to shoot an audio commercial for Chase, and I’m on the billboards here in Detroit for the bank.”
Lyle plans to grow Lush Yummies into a national player with a robust e-commerce platform. In the meantime, she’s busy working to open a flagship store in 2022 that would serve as a destination for foodies and pie-lovers alike in the Motor City. “I really want to grow our online sales and get us known in other states outside of Michigan,” she says. “Michigan is important – it’s our home. But it’s also my quest to be able to let the world know about what my grandfather had to offer.”
Despite Lyle’s success, much work is still needed to level the playing field for minority entrepreneurs – and that means Elliott’s work in Advancing Black Pathways is far from done. Elliott says she will consider Advancing Black Pathways a success when its $30 billion commitment not only shows a measurable impact but also has procedures in place for accurate tracking and truthfulness in its numbers. “The other thing that would mean we’re successful is that this program is not a program anymore – it’s the way we do business.”