St. Louis Regional Chamber’s Diverse Business Accelerator Awarded  Ewing Marion Kauffman Heartland Challenge Grant

Funding will support scholarships and expanded educational resources for women and people of color growing their business

The St. Louis Regional Chamber announced today that it was awarded a Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Heartland Challenge grant of over $84,000 to expand the Regional Chamber’s Diverse Business Accelerator (DBA) and serve a greater number of small businesses owned by women and people of color. The grant will allow the Regional Chamber to offer 14 scholarships opportunities for small businesses owned by women and people of color interested in joining the Accelerator and growing their businesses. Graduates of DBA have gone on to raise millions of dollars in new revenue and capital, written books, launched new companies, and expanded their business beyond the St. Louis region.

The Regional Chamber’s Diverse Business Accelerator was formed in 2019 for ethnically, racially, and gender-diverse business owners looking to advance their business objectives and build capacity. Over three months, the program walks owners through how to develop their business goals, market and communicate their services, make meaningful connections, and prepare for growth. Diverse Business Accelerator also sets up a framework to enhance a business’s capacity to grow and succeed by teaching business owners how to attract capital, operationally execute contracts, secure funding, find new contracts, and expand existing agreements. St. Louis was recently ranked #1 for the number of women-owned startups and has among the fastest growing rates for businesses owned by women and people of color. 

“We focus on practical solutions to everyday challenges for growing businesses,” said Lakesha Mathis, DBA Program Director. “But what DBA participants find most beneficial is being matched with a C-suite mentor, connecting with other diverse business owners facing similar challenges, and accessing the Regional Chamber’s wide network of potential suppliers and potential business partners among our members. For everyone, but especially for businesses owned by women and people of color, growing your business relies on a strong support system and a network of opportunities.” 

In response to COVID-19, the next DBA cohort will be conducted virtually, a set up that Mathis reports has worked very well for the current cohort. 

According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Heartland Challenge Grant is awarded to organization that create opportunities to develop, catalyze, and expand inclusive programs, create communities of practice, and strengthen regional entrepreneurial ecosystems. DBA was selected as a result of its proven success in developing an “objective, milestone-based entrepreneurship training program to mitigate the impact of implicit bias faced by entrepreneurs from communities systemically left behind.” 

Melissa Roberts Chapman, senior program officer in entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation states, “Entrepreneurship represents an opportunity for this region to reverse a decades-long trend of economic decline. Creating more equitable ecosystems, revitalizing rural communities and accelerating IP-driven business creation are three things we can do to ensure that starting a business in the Heartland isn’t harder than it has to be. In fact, the only way we can regain momentum in the cities and rural areas of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, is to work together to meet the challenges ahead of us.”

The St. Louis Regional Chamber Diverse Business Accelerator sets up a framework to enhance a business’s capacity to grow and succeed by teaching business owners how to attract capital, operationally execute contracts, secure funding, find new contracts, and expand existing agreements. The program strategic curriculum focuses on:           

  • Communications and marketing work to effectively communicate their business’ value proposition, refining core messaging, and creating effective collateral.
  • Development and implementation of management strategies for small businesses.
  • Development of strategic business growth plans.
  • Network building.

“In many ways, it can be easy to start a business – it is sustaining and growing that business that is the real challenge,” said Tom Chulick, Regional Chamber President & CEO. “We are thrilled that our Diverse Business Accelerator was selected by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to expand and help more businesses owned by women and people of color grow, connect and contribute to our regional economy.”