African Fashion Week Minnesota

‘Meet the boss’: Minnesota Black entrepreneurs discuss access to funding, tips for success

A panel event hosted by Sahan Journal examined the challenges and successes faced by Black and immigrant African entrepreneurs in Minnesota.

Tomme Beevas, founder of Pimento Jamaican Kitchen answers an audeince question during a panel on black entrepreneurship at Capri Theater on March 30, 2024.

Black entrepreneurs in Minnesota face tough challenges and a lack of guidance as they try to break into the business world for themselves.

That was the key takeaway from a community forum sponsored by Sahan Journal that drew more than two dozen people to the Capri Theater in Minneapolis last week.

The panelists at “Meet the boss: Me. Black, African entrepreneurs talk about making it in Minnesota” discussed the business environment in the state while reflecting on their journeys as entrepreneurs of color. They also discussed major obstacles that would-be businesspeople are facing such as a lack of mentorship and funding.

Finally they offered tips they felt could be helpful for anybody trying to go into business for themselves.

Beatrice Adenodi, interim director of economic and community development at ACER, talks about the hurdles she has overcome to build her business during a forum about black entrepreneurship at Capri Theater on March 30, 2024.

The panelists included: 

  • Beatrice Adenodi, interim director of economic and community development at ACER 
  • David Manly, founder and CEO of the tech startup Juduh
  • Modoh Wanda, CEO of African Fashion Week Minnesota 
  • Dr. Stephen Menya, co-owner of Lions Gym and Wellness Center
  • Tomme Beevas, founder and chief strategic officer of Pimento Jamaican Kitchen

The community conversation came days after the four-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Between May 2020 and October 2022, American companies pledged nearly $340 billion to support racial equity initiatives, according to the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility.

In 2023, the Minnesota Legislature approved $125 million to help boost and redevelop businesses in several neighborhoods in St. Paul and Minneapolis, including the Lake Street corridor. 

However, the financial support might not be reaching its intended target, according to Adenodi, who said she felt some Black entrepreneurs weren’t fully aware of the funding opportunities available to them.

“It’s a slow progression that is still going on,” Adenodi said. “It’s a long way to go to meet our counterparts that are in different communities.”

Many of the panelists said they faced issues acquiring funding at the start of their businesses.

Menya said he didn’t have a green card when he started his business and couldn’t apply for some loans.

“I didn’t have any qualification to get some of the funds that were available for citizens or green card holders so I had to save that money from the dishwashing or whatever it is that you can do hands on and get paid under the table,” Menya said.

David Manly, founder and CEO of the tech startup Juduh, speaks about his journey from farming to tech during a forum about black entrepreneurship at Capri Theater on March 30, 2024.

Beevas said many BIPOC entrepreneurs are forced to rely on nonprofit lenders or community support because traditional banks won’t lend to them. He launched Pimento using a Kickstarter campaign — which took time away from building his business in other ways, such as developing new recipes.

“Running a multimillion-dollar company, it took me 10 years to get one line of credit,” he said. “And that line of credit was what, $20,000, right? Meanwhile, my other counterparts have a million-dollar line of credit, just as the reality. Yeah, the disparities are real.”

Both Manly and Beevas had corporate jobs before striking out on their own.

Manly only left his job two years ago and wasn’t on his tech company’s payroll until about six months later. 

He said as an entrepreneur, money isn’t his main concern, but rather creating solution-based businesses. Judah connects tech engineers in West Africa to Minnesota companies. He has also launched other businesses, including a cassava farm that feeds thousands of Liberian schoolchildren.

Wanda, who has family roots in Cameroon and Nigeria, started African Fashion Week as a platform for not just one or two countries’ cultures, but broadened it to be able to showcase more African cultures.

She told the audience many entrepreneurs have a “yearning” to do something special.

“I just would not know what to do with myself if I was not in the fashion or entertainment field,” she said.

Modoh Wanda, CEO of African Fashion Week Minnesota, participates in a forum about black entrepreneurship at Capri Theater on March 30, 2024.

Tips for aspiring entrepreneurs

All of the panelists acknowledged speed bumps and lessons learned on their way to building their businesses.

Adenodi, who consults with many small businesses, said it’s important for entrepreneurs to value their time, charge for their services, and make sure they avoid burnout.

While many entrepreneurs are attracted by the idea of being their own boss, it can require creative problem-solving abilities and relentless determination to see your idea succeed. 

“​​You’re going to need to be motivated to wake up every single morning to go do the toiling of running your own business,” she said.

Menya said he had to overcome instances of racism while opening his gym and doubts from potential clients about his abilities.

“Even before you even show up, your accent is already disqualifying you,” Menya said.

Beevas said he learned an important business lesson early on, when he offered a Thanksgiving Groupon for a jerk turkey with 10 side dishes for $99.

He thought he would get five orders but ended up with 100 — an experience that turned into the “worst professional day” of his life when a snowstorm also snarled the meal delivery.

After cooking for 72 hours without sleep and feeling like he had destroyed Thanksgiving parties all over the metro, one customer gave him an important insight.

“She said, ‘You know, I knew you could do it, but all I wanted was just the meat,’” Beevas said.

“So the solution from that is, even though I can [do it all], does it mean I have to? Stay focused on the core, stay focused on the meat, stay focused on what you’re truly driving as a solution.”

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