Since becoming president of the Black Business Association of Memphis, Roby S. Williams' chief goal has been to promote BBA's member businesses and provide them with full opportunities in the marketplace.
That's one of the reasons Williams chose to attend last week's New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) Big StartUp "Small Business Connections: Marketing Meets Microfinancing" workshop at EmergeMemphis, a business and technology-based incubator.
NYSE Big StartUp is a nationwide job creation and business growth initiative that connects small businesses with established corporations. About 40 people attended the small business workshop held Oct. 9 in the Memphis Room of EmergeMemphis, which is located at 516 Tennessee St.
"One of the problems that African-American businesses face is not having access to capital," said Williams, who heads a membership organization of "self-employed professionals, entrepreneurs, churches, economic development organizations and corporations who all unite behind a single goal of empowerment."
Empowering small businesses is just one aspect of the "Small Business Connections" tour that stopped in Memphis on the seventh leg of a national tour. The two-hour workshop was presented in part by the NYSE, Accion, the largest microfinance lending network in the U.S., and Yelp, a popular online review site.
Cynthia Norwood, managing director for the Tennessee office of alt.Consulting, which delivers on-site managerial assistance to at least 2,500 small businesses, said Yelp provided "helpful marketing strategies for my Beyond Brick and Mortar (BBAM) small business clients." BBAM helps clients manage their digital footprint via web design, high-definition video, social media, and cloud-based applications.
"The workshop was helpful to socialize and network with other small businesses and small business development agencies and lenders," said Norwood, who is quite familiar with Accion.
According to Norwood, alt.Consulting, which often refers clients to Accion, is a "catalyst in growing, sustaining and educating entrepreneurial ventures resulting in wealth and fair-wage job creation in minority and rural communities." It serves businesses throughout Tennessee, Arkansas and North Mississippi, with its focus on minority and women-owned businesses," she said.
Nathaniel Owen, regional market manager for Accion in the Delta, talked about how businesses can access capital. Accion offers loans of $500 to $50,000 for qualifying start-ups and pre-revenue companies, and up to $250,000 for other qualifying businesses. So far, Accion, which is in the process of opening an office at EmergeMemphis, has loaned in excess of $2.6 million in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Louisiana.
"This was the first Small Business Connections event that Accion has hosted in Memphis. Based on the excitement of entrepreneurs and small business owners who participated, we believe there is an audience and a need here in Memphis for many more events like the Yelp workshop," said Owen, who works remotely from Helena, Ark., until the Accion office in EmergeMemphis is finished.
"It (workshop) was well worth the time," said Nita Black, a managing partner at MAP Momentum, a management consultant firm that offers its clients turnaround consulting, business planning, cash budgeting and forecasting.
Black said those who attended the Yelp session got the "scoop" on some useful information.
"Yelp, a B2C (Business selling to Consumer) social media site, helps connect consumers with great businesses, like restaurants, retail stores, and professional services," said Black.
Darnell Holloway, Yelp's manager of local business outreach, explained how small businesses, such as the ones Black referenced, can use social media to their advantage. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, he said, are a few social media sites that online users can tap into to connect with potential customers.
The "Small Business Connections" tour is the first for NYSE Big StartUp. It was launched in March 2012.
"It was energizing to be around people who have the guts to follow their passion," said Black.