Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of the American economy – but right now, women, people of color, and other overlooked entrepreneurs don’t have the same access to resources for success despite being the fastest-growing segment of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. These innovators represent a world-changing opportunity for impact and equitable wealth creation, but too much isn’t working for the increasingly diverse modern entrepreneur, from a fragmented resource landscape to biased funding norms to unequal COVID-19 recovery for BIPOC-owned small businesses.
Enterprises led by underrepresented groups offer significant opportunities – they are proven to outperform other businesses and are growing exponentially, with women starting businesses at unprecedented rates. In 2021, more than 1,800 new female-owned businesses were started each day, and of them, 64% were started by women of color. These companies employ 2.1 million people and produce $361 billion in annual revenue. Women of color are overall starting businesses at 4x the rate of overall business creation.
Yet the current entrepreneurial ecosystem largely favors white, male business owners, urban hubs, and a narrow slice of business models and types. Take funding, for example: Only 2% of venture capital goes to female-founded firms and less than 3% goes to Black or Latinx founders. In 2020, the average loan amount for women-owned businesses was 33% lower than male-owned businesses. These disparities exist at all levels of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, from access to knowledge to inclusion in networks to compensation and revenue status. Without change, wealth gaps will continue to grow, and our systems of innovation and impact won’t benefit from the insights and creations of these enterprising entrepreneurs. The time to shift systemic imbalances within entrepreneurship is now.
A new model requires recognizing the strengths of overlooked entrepreneurs and shifting the burden of change to the decision makers in the wider ecosystem including investors, economic developers, and support organizations. Through multi-pronged solutions, we can build effective and equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems that connect women, BIPOC, and other overlooked founders to intentional investors who can support them with financial capital and decision makers who can amplify their success.
Project Developing Equitable Economies Program (DEEP) exists to be a part of this solution - to disrupt the entrepreneurial ecosystem status quo and unlock equitable wealth creation by connecting entrepreneurs and a new class of intentional investors into a supportive network of knowledge- and resource-sharing.
Bespoke video and workbook series
Project DEEP offers a newly launched series of six cinema-quality video courses centered around key topics in entrepreneurship, investing, and ecosystem building. Each course is taught by world-class subject matter experts with lived experience and features a complementary course workbook. Project DEEP also offers a community discussion and networking platform, a series of live webinars with course instructors and expert guests, and additional ways to explore, learn, and connect. These courses cover topics that are essential to success, but often not explicitly taught in other spaces.
The Project DEEP team also provides direct support to Utah-based entrepreneurs by working with leading community partners to offer education, coaching, and other technical assistance. The Sorenson Impact Institute is partnered with two leading community organizations, Women’s Business Center of Utah (WBCUtah) and New Pattern (NPU), to offer interactive entrepreneur training programs. Designed by WBCUtah in collaboration with NPU, the Mind Your Business cohort program includes peer and expert learning, individual projects, mastermind group meetings, and more to support participating entrepreneurs in measuring, accelerating, and sharing their progress. Learn more here.
Project DEEP also aims to contribute to the wider ecosystem around best practices for supporting overlooked entrepreneurs – and removing the systemic barriers they face. As part of this, Project DEEP also includes an intensive focus on impact measurement across all workstreams. This starts with measuring the impact of the video courses and community partnership and extending lessons learned into a wider impact measurement framework that can be replicated elsewhere and drive change. Stay tuned for more resources here!
Project DEEP is hosted by the Sorenson Impact Institute, a social impact consultancy based at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, and generously funded by the Economic Development Administration, JPMorgan Chase, and the Sorenson Impact Foundation.
Project DEEP builds on previous research conducted by the Center, including a landscape analysis report that offered several distinct recommendations for supporting historically marginalized entrepreneurs in Utah and beyond.