ShopBIPOC, a new online marketplace created by a team of twelve community organizations in Colorado, caters to consumers who want to use their spending to help reduce the racial wealth gap among local entrepreneurs.
The Center for Community Wealth Building, Rocky Mountain Microfinance Institute, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, CEDS Finance, Energize Colorado, Adelante Community Development, Good Business Colorado, Aurora-South Metro Small Business Development Center, Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, Minority Business Office of Colorado, Slow Integration Coaching and Praxis LLC all united to fill the need for an all-encompassing, easy-to-use platform where Coloradans can find local BIPOC-owned small businesses to support.
According to the United States Small Business Association, only 7.4 percent of Colorado business owners identify as BIPOC, so in the past it's been difficult and time-consuming for people to comb through business listings to identify which are BIPOC-owned. Now, shoppers are able to search the ShopBIPOC directory of nearly 200 businesses by name, zip code, industry or even BIPOC identity to locate nearly any kind of product or service. Launched just in time for the holiday shopping season, ShopBIPOC offers buyers the opportunity to "Do business with purpose."
We spoke with Kanitha Snow of Energize Colorado and Michelle Sturm and Karen Bartlett from the Center for Community Wealth Building to find out more about the ShopBIPOC initiative.
Westword: What is ShopBIPOC, and how can people use it as a shopping tool?
Kanitha Snow: It was a community effort across all of our organizations, who saw this need from folks who were like, “I want to support BIPOC businesses, how do I do that? How do I find the businesses I want to support?" And there wasn’t a great central place where people could go find a business to buy from. By going to the ShopBIPOC website, they can find about 200 businesses across the state. A lot of them are in Denver right now, but the goal is to have businesses across the state, and people can filter by different categories, like "caterer." We want to be able to track the dollars invested, and how people find these BIPOC businesses.
How did these twelve partner organizations connect and come together to make ShopBIPOC happen?
Michelle Sturm: It was through our executive director, Yessica Holguin. The Center for Community Wealth Building reached out and invited other partners, and they were really easy yeses from all these partners. I will say, most of us have worked together before, one on one. So it wasn’t like we were strangers to each other, but we’ve never all come together to do something this monumental. But we have partnered with each other, so there was already a level of trust. All of our partners are all interested in closing the racial wealth gap, and how we can uplift businesses that are left out of opportunities and give them exposure.
Snow: Yessica in the beginning was really the driving force. Between all of our organizations, it’s a pretty connected network, and everyone was like, “Yes, this matters.” It’s really people who are strapped in within their own organizations but are recognizing the need and coming together to make it happen. It’s a very collaborative effort, and really coalition-run. We meet on a biweekly basis, and it’s really exciting and energizing to be together. Everyone is really focused on this being for Colorado’s BIPOC community.
What kinds of businesses does ShopBIPOC include?
Sturm: It’s a huge variety. We cover printing and promotional material, a lot of food vendors, a lot of facilities services, a lot of small retail vendors. If you go on the website and look on the “Buy” page at every category that’s listed, there’s a business that provides that service or those goods. Health, wellness and personal care — there’s a big group of businesses there. Professional skilled services. There’s a lot of room for growth, though. We know that we’ve just started to tap the number of BIPOC businesses, so even within all the partners we have, there are still a lot of businesses that we work with that are not yet listed on ShopBIPOC.
Snow: There are a lot of solo-preneurs on here who have started their own shops or left their jobs during the pandemic to do their own thing. Whether they’re a marketing and communications consultant or a DEI consultant, you’ll find those folks on here, too.
How will this platform help both small-business owners and consumers?
Sturm: It’s really about consumers who want to align their spending with their values. Every time we spend money, it’s kind of a statement. So for consumers whose values align with both wanting to spend locally and wanting to see greater social, racial and economic justice in our community, this is a place that makes it easy for people to find those businesses. This is a resource for [businesses], too, and we’d love to get them included, and it’s free. There’s some models where you actually have to pay to get listed, but this is not that model. We just want people to know about these businesses, and the services they provide.
Snow: Right now, people can go find businesses they want to buy from, and they are then funneled to their websites. Or, some of these businesses don’t have websites. That’s something about a lot of really small businesses that our organizations serve — they don’t have a digital presence. So it increases their visibility. People can call them or see their address and say, “Oh okay, I know where to find you now.” I find it easy, and interesting and fun, and I know with the holiday season coming up, spending will increase. As a BIPOC person, I want to buy BIPOC and support different businesses in whatever way I can. Let’s make those dollars matter right now.
Karen Bartlett: It also benefits consumers by giving them a wider variety and more diversity in what they’re buying. For example, the caterers that are on ShopBIPOC, a lot of them are serving food that’s really different from the standard options that people may have used in the past. We heard from some folks last week about how nice it was to have some different, more interesting food than what they typically have bought.
Why is it important for consumers to support local small businesses, especially those owned by BIPOC entrepreneurs?
Sturm: The global supply chain is something that’s really tough to compete against, and it causes all kinds of problems in our communities, in terms of the amount of people who own things has gotten less and less and less over the last ten, twenty and thirty years. We know that small businesses generate jobs, we know that small businesses that are local care about the community in a different way, and they’re part of a thriving community. If we really want to see a thriving, healthy and inclusive local economy, we have to shop local. We have to spend money with these businesses so they can thrive.
Snow: There are more barriers for BIPOC folks, on top of what it takes to run a small business. We also know that the BIPOC businesses in the state were impacted by the pandemic more deeply. There are ripple effects of that, and many of them are still in recovery mode. These dollars really matter to these small businesses. And we’re talking that one-to-ten-employee range, or under 25 employees. By increasing visibility of what folks are selling, whether it’s a product or service, we can really help small businesses not have to close their doors. We can help them grow.
Besides helping individual shoppers, ShopBIPOC also aims to connect larger, "anchor" institutions with BIPOC-owned businesses. Can you tell us more about that?
Sturm: There’s a couple different kinds of consumers. There’s the individual consumers like you and I, and then there are institutional consumers, which include the University of Denver, Colorado State University, Metro State, Denver Health, and then also a lot of congregations and nonprofits. One of the efforts that the Center for Community Wealth Building focuses on is shifting the spending of large anchor institutions. So how can large institutions be [conscious] about closing the racial wealth gap that we experience in Denver? We’ve been working on building that appetite and that sort of mindset since about 2018, and it was really the George Floyd murder and the social uprising and the disparate impact of the pandemic that made it become really clear in 2020 and led to both institutions saying, “Yes, we do want to shift our spending and become part of the solution.”
It’s really hard to find these businesses, and there are about seven or eight incomplete directories, and many of those partners are a part of ShopBIPOC now. A procurement professional doesn’t have the time to search seven different directories, so the idea was: Can we all come together to do something? And it’s very relational-based. Oftentimes institutions require that they only work with certified businesses, because that’s what they can count toward requirements that the city might have, or that the federal government has. ShopBIPOC is getting beyond that by saying it’s not just certified businesses, but we know these businesses. We can vouch that these are BIPOC businesses.
Snow: I used to work at the University of Denver running the entrepreneurship hub, and having formerly been a university employee, all the different departments are really segmented and host their own events, and are printing materials on their own and choosing their own vendors. So with an institution saying here is this resource, please leverage it and explore it, those dollars can be really meaningful across a large institution.
What are some of the challenges of owning a small business, specifically for BIPOC entrepreneurs?
Sturm: Some of the challenges are around certification. There’s a big push to certify businesses as minority-owned or women-owned business enterprises (MWBE), which is a government certification process. When that was implemented, it was trying to solve a problem, and I think it was very worthwhile at that moment in time, but it’s become a barrier and a challenge for people to actually get the certification. Access to capital is another. Entrepreneurs of color typically have a much harder time, and that’s well documented. The screen they are put through to access capital is a different one. They also typically don't have generational wealth, where they can borrow from family and friends who could help start their businesses or grow their businesses. Thinking about the systemic racism and embedded racism we have, even renting space from a landlord is going to be a different experience than for white business owners.
Bartlett: Another thing is if you have businesses owned by immigrants, there can be language barriers, too. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t reliable or excellent at what they do, but the language barrier can be a challenge. Whether they know English or not, it can be intimidating to be trying to enter spaces when you may have a different language as your first language.
What are some of your favorite BIPOC-owned small businesses in Colorado to support?
Sturm: I get to work with a lot of caterers, so that’s hard for me, because I have about eighteen favorites. Feeding the Multitudes is one that we’ve been working with for a long time. Combi Cafe, E Hijole Tacos, Grandma Hattie’s Pies. Kenyatta Computer Services is doing some great networking infrastructure and IT support and stuff for businesses. Apapacho Cacao is a really cool company that’s doing some really great products and healing modalities with cacao. Tiny Dog Leather Studio is a father-in-law and daughter-in-law who started this company, and 10 percent of their proceeds go to medical research, because the daughter-in-law’s child has a rare illness. They’re making really beautiful purses and briefcases and jewelry out of leather.
Bartlett: I am coming from owning my own business, so I’ve used a lot of these businesses or know others who have used them for professional services. Original Account Strategies is really great for branding and website work. Sunnyside Accounting — I’ve heard amazing things about them for accounting and bookkeeping.
Snow: At Energize, we just had a community celebration event last week and we worked with Chef (Edwin) Sandoval from Xatrucho, and it was phenomenal. He’s an awesome entrepreneur, and he also happens to be a grant fund recipient of Energize Colorado. Arlene Alvarez of ASquared Promotions, a swag vendor out of Colorado Springs, she’s awesome. Jasmine Syrian Food, based out of Mango House, is one of my personal favorites. I eat there every other week.
How would a qualifying small business go about being listed on ShopBIPOC?
Bartlett: All they have to do is go to the website, and there’s a tab for “Sell,” and they fill out a profile. It takes fifteen to thirty minutes depending on how readily available they have their different assets and things like that. There’s an approval process — not like checking up on their service and that kind of thing, but really making sure that their profile is complete and all the links work.
Sturm: It’s turned around within a week, but usually quicker than that. It’s usually live on the site within five business days.
For more information and to browse the directory, visit ShopBIPOC.com.