Kim Folsom, CEO of Founders First CDC, is helping fund a business accelerator for Black-owned businesses called the San Diego Clydesdale Community Leaders Program. (Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune) Many small businesses have suffered during the pandemic, and Black-owned businesses are among the hardest hit When San Diego entrepreneur Kim Folsom was in college, her role models were business magnates like Bill Gates and Ted Turner. Microsoft, CNN — those were the kinds of companies she wanted to build. But as a Black woman studying computer science and information systems, opportunities were in short supply. Folsom decided early on that if she was going to run a business, she would have to create it herself. It took her eight years, as a mother, while going through graduate school, but she launched that first company — an e-learning platform for professionals called SeminarSource. Twenty-five years and seven companies later, Folsom — now the CEO of Founders First CDC, a community development organization and small business accelerator — is helping other Black entrepreneurs succeed with the San Diego Clydesdale Community Leaders Program, a two-year accelerator for Black-owned businesses. The two-year program, which began last month, kicked off with a series of workshops and will be followed by 18 months of mentorship and support. The accelerator aims to teach businesses how to put together a growth strategy and gain access to new contracts and loans. It’s the sort of program that was hard to find when Folsom started that first business more than two decades ago. “This has been my own journey, challenge, experience as an entrepreneur,” she said. “It’s amazing in some respects and super challenging in others that we continue to have this groundhog day issue in regards to social and economic equity.” The program, largely funded with a $500,000 grant, launched shortly before the region fell to the state’s most restrictive purple tier, which forced many businesses to again move their operations outdoors. The latest round of restrictions is sure to impact small businesses, many of which were already struggling. In June, the San Diego Association of Governments analyzed the pandemic’s affect on small businesses in the region and found that 9 in 10 small businesses suffered some sort of negative impact. Nearly 40 percent of about 26,000 businesses surveyed believed it would take more than six months to recover, and more than 12 percent believed they wouldn’t recover at all. Donna DeBerry, CEO of the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce, said Black-owned businesses were among the hardest hit. She said many Black entrepreneurs were denied loans and struggled to obtain grants and other forms of government assistance. “The pandemic exacerbated the already disproportionate challenges that Black-owned businesses face in this county,” DeBerry said. She said the accelerators like the Clydesdale Program are vital because they “level the playing field” for Black entrepreneurs by connecting them with the capital and resources that all businesses need to succeed. Despite historic disadvantages, some businesses have thrived during the pandemic. Wanda Rogers, one of the entrepreneurs going through the Clydesdale Program, founded Construction Service Workers, a staffing agency for the construction industry. She said during the pandemic she’s received funding through grants and government assistance that has put her in a position to expand. She hopes the program will help her do that. “That’s what I’m looking to do — to go to the next level, to help more individuals,” Rogers said. “We have so many people who are unemployed who need to change their jobs.” She says she’s ready to help those people transition. curated from: www.sandiegouniontribune.com Do you know of any business accelerator programs near you? Let us know in the comments so we can help get the word out in the comments below! Thank you.