By Aaron Allen The Seattle Medium
JP Morgan Chase is putting action to policy. With an $8 million grant to the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business’ Ascend Program, minority businesses have another avenue in which to grow.
“The goal of the grant is to grow 400 more businesses owned by people of color,” says, Michael Verchot, Director of UW’s Foster School Consulting and Business Development Center. “This is on a national level over a three-year period.
The $8 million investment is a part of JPMorgan Chase’s $30 billion commitment to provide economic opportunity to underserved communities, close the racial wealth divide and create a more inclusive economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ascend program, part of a nationwide program in 15 U.S. cities, supports the development and growth of minority and diverse owned businesses by connecting underserved entrepreneurs to community development financial institutions, suppliers and business schools to provide resources and tools that have not been historically available to minority owned businesses.
The University of Washington developed the Ascend Program in 2016 with the early support of JPMorgan Chase. To date, the program has raised $23.7 million in capital, generated $360 million in revenue, supported 200 businesses and create 2,615 jobs.
The program, a cohort-based program that last for about five months, is designed to help businesses grow by addressing three areas – education, customer growth and access to capital and financing. In addition, the program connects businesses with lenders and investors with one-on-one meets, along with private and public sector organizations that provide contracting opportunities. This year the program has about 38 to 40 different businesses ready to learn and take on the challenges of growth.
“Ascend teaches businesses how to scale their business,” says Verchot. “Scaling one’s business requires different management systems, growing talent, identifying market niches they can sell to, developing product and services and different strategies to better manage their finances.”
“Our program is designed as the M3 model meaning Management Strength (through business education), Markets (access to customers) and Money (access to growth capital and contract financing),” adds Verchot. “And so, what we are doing is addressing each of these simultaneously.”
According to Khatsini Simani, Program Manager of Ascend, the program is ideally suited for people looking to take their business to the next level, but don’t necessarily have access to the support/training and resources they need to do so.
“With the Ascend program our model is to promote growth,” says Simani. “For businesses that are looking for an opportunity to learn more management skills, to connect with people who could procure their goods and services in the market, or to learn how to access more capital to grow their business, the Ascend program would be a resource for them.”
Simani says the program previously centered around both the construction and the food and beverage industry. However, this year’s program will be putting most of its emphasis on the construction industry, which will now include additional construction related fields.
“In particular, this year and in future years we will be focusing on the construction industry,” says Simani. “In years past, we focused on food and beverage and construction, now going forward we will still support food and beverage but through our other programs within the center, but in particular for businesses that are in the construction industry, we will be including architecture and engineering as well.”
Businesses such Taylor Made Concrete says the Ascend program helped him become a better business owner.
“I’ve worked in construction for a long time and this program was invaluable,” says Ceaonda Taylor, Owner of Taylor Made Concrete LLC. “Learning the business of owning a business, the connections you establish with other business owners, the instructors who take the time to teach you and the resources made available were invaluable. The program is important in that helps and supports businesses to become better businesses.”
Past participants such as Malcolm Waters, principal owner of Ovation Technology, LLC., a systems integration company says the short-term commitment to participate in the program produces long-term benefits for your business.
“I’ve gone through the program and it is an intense program,” says Waters. “To make the commitment for a business owner is to be in class, to do the course work, you have to be open as a business owner to share your financials, to take critical feedback and apply that information to how you run your operation.”
“There is nothing but good that comes out of this course,’ adds Walters. “It makes you self-reflect, it certainly will identify opportunities for improvement, but it also provides opportunity for advancement and creates a clear and better path in which we want to go as business owners.”
Verchot believes that the program will play a key role in their continued effort to help maintain a solid business foundation in the Black community.
“Ascend is the next evolution of our now 26 year engagement with Black and minority owned businesses,” says Verchot. “It [Ascend] continues our work to increase wealth in Black communities through business ownership.”