5 Important Lessons From Women and Minority Business Owners

August 17, 2017 - (6 min read)

In response to the tragic events in Charlottesville, the National League of Cities is celebrating #InclusionWeek to support diversity, inclusivity, and hope in America’s cities. This is a guest post by Charlotte City Councilor LaWana Mayfield.

In 2002, there were fewer than one million businesses owned by women of color in America.

Let that sink in.

According to the State of Women in Business 2016 Report, in 2016 that number jumped to an estimated five million minority women-owned businesses, generating $344 billion in revenue. That’s incredible growth in just over ten years.

Here are some numbers to help put this in context: In the wake of the 2007-09 recession, the number of total businesses has grown just nine percent since 2007. In contrast, the number of women owned businesses has risen by 44 percent over the past nine years—meaning the rate of growth in the number of women-owned firms is five times the national average. Even more impressive, businesses owned by women of color more than doubled since 2007, increasing by 126 percent.

Small business is the cornerstone of local economic development and job creation, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that minority-women will be the entrepreneurs of the future. But as local elected and appointed officials, we have all seen firsthand the disparities that can come from mismanaging contracts and city initiatives — affecting minority women in particular.

Some of the biggest barriers to minority women owned business are lack of access to capital, credit and opportunities to develop business acumen. To support our cities and the residents who live in them, city leaders must be able to identify and grow small minority women business enterprises (SMWBE), and help an underserved group access economic mobility.

The city of Charlotte is working to change the narrative and improve outcomes for women and minority small businesses in our city with the Charlotte Business INClusion Policy. Here are five lessons we’ve learned along the way:

1) Understand your local market. 

Understanding the local business environment is an incredibly important step in the process. How many jobs have been created by small business in your community? What is the projected growth over the next five years? Once you can understand the market conditions and overall trends in your cities, you can begin to better support new and small businesses.

Charlotte completed its first Disparity Study in 2003; we found that a number of minority small business owners were not able to qualify for Request for Proposals (RFPs) f­­­or our local government contracts. Since then, Charlotte has updated the survey twice: in 2011 and in 2016—the results of which will be available later in August. Our studies and other research from the Kauffman Foundation and US Census Bureau have told us both positive and negative things about Charlotte’s market—and given us a sense of where we need to focus our efforts.

2) Work with partners. 

In November of 2012, the Charlotte City Council adopted a High Growth Entrepreneurship strategy. The group ultimately decided to create an independent organization named the Charlotte Regional Fund for Entrepreneurship (CRFE), a public-private organization charged with:

  • Strengthening the entrepreneurial ecosystem
  • Supporting increased innovation
  • Improving development of high growth entrepreneurs
  • Increasing job creation

The CRFE Board consists of local entrepreneurs, the City of Charlotte and Charlotte Chamber and has an Executive Director. Having local entrepreneurs and stakeholders at the foundation of the programs helps to ensure long-term growth.

Does your community have access to a Statewide Development Fund? If so, they are a great source for potential funding. Research their mission and vision to find alignment and synergy in your plans.

3) Make it as easy as possible.

One of the key barriers to business creation is a lack of access to knowledge. charlotteCharlotteBusinessResources.com represents a community-wide effort to save small businesses time and money. It connects start-ups and small businesses to information on starting, growing, financing and locating a business in Charlotte through:

  • Frequently updated web content
  • Filtering tools that customize searches
  • Calendaring events
  • Interactive tools (social media, videos and podcast libraries)

Help bridge the gap by making online tools and resources available to the public.

4) Be responsive. 


We worked with Macklenburg County to survey small businesses in the Charlotte area, and then created a Small Business Focus Group to work on implementation. With six focus groups of 10-15 small businesses, we put an emphasis on including MWSBEs and ensuring diverse representation. The results demonstrated a need for capacity-building and networking. Charlotte responded with a series of updates to CharlotteBusinessResources.com, including:

  • Homepage re-design
  • Integrative search tool that aggregates portal data based on an area of interest
  • Increased emphasis on storytelling of small business success in Charlotte blogs, YouTube and social media
  • Increasing Business Resource Partner engagement

And established a networking event series—over 150 businesses attended the inaugural event! charlotte2

5) Engage your community.

Small businesses are eager to share their work. Tap into that enthusiasm by creating campaigns and activities they can be a part of.

In Charlotte, we hosted the 31 Days of Business Campaign, highlighting 31 different businesses on the Charlotte Business Resources portal and our social media. Businesses were nominated by our partner organizations.

Additionally, we started a Charlotte Business Resource Ambassador program—we had over 40 businesses self-nominated to be our first Ambassador. This spring, I held two town hall events that featured panelists of developers, prime contractors and successful entrepreneurs. These individuals provided great insight for both existing and aspiring business owners.

MayfieldAbout the author: LaWana Mayfield represents district 3 on Charlotte City Council. She was elected in 2011 and is serving her third term. In 2014 Mayfield was awarded the David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellowship and completed the Harvard Kennedy School of Government program. Mayfield serves on the National League of Cities REAL Race, Equity and Leadership Committee; ​as president of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Local Officials; and as board member of Smart Start of Mecklenburg County. She also serves on the Centralina Eco​nomic Development Committee and is secretary of North Carolina Black Elected Municipal Officials.

Charlotte City Councilors LaWana Mayfield and James Mitchell originally presented this at the 2017 NBC-LEO Summer Conference. Learn more about the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) and join them at their next meeting in at City Summit Charlotte.

This October, learn how to become a more inclusive leader at the NLC University Leadership Summit for Inclusion in sunny San Diego, California.

Want to learn more about the city Charlotte? Join the National League of Cities in Charlotte, November 15-18, for our annual City Summit — four days of knowledge-sharing, networking, learning, and growing all in the name of making America’s cities and towns. Register now!