From The Hill: America’s hidden resilience factor

GoDaddy and The Hill hosted an event on Tuesday, September 15 about microbusinesses and their impact on the U.S. economy.

GoDaddy’s CEO, Aman Bhutani, opened the event by sharing data that illustrates the impact microbusinesses make on local economies throughout America. These are businesses and ventures run with fewer than ten people. Often, they’re run by just one person, part-time. They’re side-hustles. Despite their size, these ventures make a startling impact on their communities.

The power of ventures on local economies

Measuring like-for-like locations impacted by the Great Recession, GoDaddy found that cities with more microbusinesses per 100 people recovered faster than cities with fewer everyday entrepreneurs.

Median income was higher in these places, unemployment was lower.

Bhutani and GoDaddy are so passionate about this information and the power of ventures within a community, they’re making this data available to everyone. They’ve committed to knocking on the door of 500 mayors across the United States to make sure they can see it for themselves.

That’s a lot of work. Why would they do that?

Lori Lightfoot and what’s happening in Chicago

Lori Lightfoot, the current mayor of Chicago and second panelist at the event, illustrated why this information is important. She’s dedicated to creating equity and inclusion in her city. Regardless of what challenges they face, this remains her North Star. But COVID-19 and social unrest layered additional challenges. To understand what they could do to recover, she toured areas hit hard by the pandemic and looting. She spent time with small business owners face-to-face. What did she find? She found that they were hopeful, and they were hungry.

“Mayor, we’ve got to have hope,” they said. “We’ve got to get back to work.”

Her focus has been two-fold: how do we keep existing small-businesses alive and how do we create more opportunity. First, you get them access to capital. Second, you educate them on how to take advantage of programs and run a business. And third, listen to local leaders. Listen to mayors. They’re the people on the ground. They know what their communities need. She emphasized that no one should make federal policy regarding local economies without involving mayors.

The power of networks

Neela Mollgard and Larry Irving echoed Lightfoot’s sentiment. Mollgard is the executive director for Launch Minnesota and Irving is the co-founder of The Mobile Alliance for Global Good. When asked whether the federal government should do something to support ventures or whether we should let them be the secret behind a healthy economy, Irving stressed that this type of change must happen at the local level. That doesn’t mean the federal government doesn’t play a role. According to Irving, they can provide access to capital, education and broadband.

Outside of that, let the local leaders do the hard work.

Both Mollgard and Irving talked about how networks of entrepreneurs breed more success in a community. In Minnesota, Mollgard and her team have used a corner-to-corner approach or a hub-and-spoke network of advisors and resources. Educators, entrepreneurs, corporate leaders and investors are working together to connect communities and help microbusinesses better navigate the plethora of resources and expertise available to them.

Photo: Mary Ray on Unsplash

For Irving, access to broadband is the number one thing we should focus on in order to help more people succeed as small-business owners. That’s no surprise. Irving coined the term “digital divide” and has been evangelizing the economic benefits of high-speed internet for years. There are people across the U.S. who have had not had the opportunities that “plugged-in” communities have had. Even in New York City, 40% of business owners don’t have access to high-speed broadband.

“People now know that the digital divide has to be crossed. You’re not just giving access to Netflix. You’re giving people access to doctors. You’re giving access to markets. You’re giving access to teachers.”

Irving also recognized the power of a network to connect people who want to create and manage businesses. When he looks at the Venture Forward data, he sees communities of people who are like-minded and who find each other. They’re working together. Regardless of technology and education, we need to find ways to connect small-business owners to each other.

Grit, determination, hope

That makes sense since many people who start ventures are doing so with little help. Often, they start businesses out of necessity. They’ve been furloughed or forced home. They have to make it work. To them, they’ve got little choice. They don’t have a backup plan.

Candis Jones experienced this necessity firsthand. When her son was born, she did the math with her husband and they decided that she would be able to stay home with their newborn. They thought they would be able to survive on one income. That didn’t work out.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Jones said, “but I knew I was either going to work nights somewhere else or work nights in my own home.”

So, Jones and her husband decided to use a week’s worth of grocery money and a hope and a prayer to create The Jones Market, a store that sells baby-safe, fashionable jewelry for mothers. Newborns can safely play with it and chew on it. Mothers can wear something that speaks to them as a person, not just as a mom.

While Jones eventually was able to sell her jewelry in a brick and mortar location, it’s her online presence that’s kept her afloat during the pandemic. GoDaddy’s recent entrepreneur survey suggests she’s not alone. 66% of small business owners said that a website has helped them weather the economic uncertainty of COVID-19.

Candis is working nights and weekends more, but she says it’s worth it. She knows what her “why” is: it’s her family. She suggested other would-be entrepreneurs figure out the same thing. Figure out your “why” and that will keep the fire burning.

Jaqi Wright and Nikki Howard found themselves in a similar situation. During the government shutdown in 2019, they both temporarily lost their jobs. After seeing how Howard’s sweet potato cheesecake cheered people up and made them smile, Wright thought maybe they should sell it. So, they did. They created The Furlough Cheesecake. It wasn’t something they were trying to do. They were unlikely entrepreneurs. Both had professional, long-term careers.

According to Howard, it was a perfect combination of circumstance, determination, and faith. Her advice when asked what it takes to succeed on your own:

“It is extremely important to not allow circumstance and situations stop you in your tracks. Everybody has something that they can do. Everybody as something they enjoy and they like to do. Figure out how you can monetize it. There’s a need for everything. Everybody has something.”

Wright stressed that if you want to succeed, you must be willing to do every single job within your business. You must be willing to do every single task. You’re the CEO, the baker, the garbage man. You have to flexible.

When asked about giving help to others, they’re all in. They want to assist others in any way they can. They recognize that it’s important to have mentors and other people available who can share their experiences. They, too, are part of a network.

Thematically, this was an event about hope. It was an event about what we can do to support microbusinesses at the federal, state and local levels. It was about the ways we can connect to each other and grow our communities.

The data from GoDaddy’s Venture Forward project illustrates that where there’s connectivity, capital, and community, there’s a better opportunity for people to start their own ventures and help everyone thrive.

Photo: Theme Photos on Unsplash

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