Minority Business Skills Enhancement Program Gives Underserved Groups a Hand Up in Northwest Indiana

Small businesses are the economic engines of local communities and the national economy, though they aren’t always on an equal playing field with their larger counterparts. Yet more disparities exist with issues surrounding ethnic diversity and inclusion. A solution-oriented program made possible by READI funding will address those challenges head-on.

The Minority Business Skills Enhancement Program, managed by the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center (Northwest Indiana SBDC), is a resource for both existing businesses and entrepreneurs looking to launch a new venture. The center will offer its business expertise to help minority-owned businesses grow, and to help start-ups succeed from the beginning. Hosted by Purdue University Northwest, the Northwest Indiana SBDC  works to strengthen the region’s small businesses through workshops, one-on-one consulting and special events.

The program is specifically designed with a more niche focus in terms of impact. Lorri Feldt, regional director of the Northwest Indiana SBDC, said zeroing in on this target market is strategic and intentional.

Data from global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company affirms Feldt’s experience. In short, the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing challenges.

This gap includes a $290 billion—and growing—opportunity to grow overall wealth by achieving revenue parity between Black- and white-owned businesses in addition to providing aid to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)—those with up to 500 employees—with nonwhite owners, according to McKinsey & Company.

Statistics like these, coupled with interviews with business owners conducted by the ISBDC, underlined the need for focusing on underserved people living in the identified service region of Jasper, Lake County, LaPorte, Newton, Porter, Pulaski and Starke counties.

The project objective is to provide more significant, effective outreach and resources to Black, Hispanic and rural business owners and individuals starting businesses. The scope of services will include insight into how to develop a business plan, financing and accounting basics, digital marketing and tackling the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Women Business Enterprise (WBE) certification process.

Feldt believes the consultants can make inroads with these clients, which will translate into outcomes like obtaining additional funding and certifications like Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Women Business Enterprise (WBE).

The Northwest Indiana SBDC will also engage a local marketing firm to provide education and training on digital marketing. By Feldt’s estimation, digital marketing can seem complicated on the surface, and many small business owners don’t take the time to dive in deeper. But by working with an expert, they can feel more confident in their effectiveness and abilities.

“The marketing expert will conduct an audit of what the business is doing with their digital presence and identify the top three or five steps they can take that would have the most impact on their particular line of business, their products and services,” she said.

Feldt estimates the organization will help an additional 200 businesses over the grant period, which ends in early 2024. While the Indiana SBDC is leading the charge on this initiative, Feldt is quick to point out the robust nature of the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem. There’s room for everyone at the table, she says. For instance, resources like the NWI BizHub and the Hammond Development Corporation are assets and help Hoosier entrepreneurs in the region go further faster.

“We’re trying to be part of an ecosystem here and a good partner by filling gaps, not overlapping services,” she said.

Ultimately, when small business owners succeed, no matter who helps them, everyone wins. With that in mind, Feldt and her team strive to show quantitative successes which will help make incite additional funding from economic development organizations, cities or other entities.