NEW YORK — Mel Gravely says his construction company might not exist today if he didn’t have mentors to guide it.
Gravely’s company, TriVersity, joined a program called a minority business accelerator even before he bought a controlling interest in the Cincinnati-based company in 2006. It helped the company get started and win contracts that have helped Triversity’s revenue double.
“I don’t make any move at all without getting the input of the accelerator,” Gravely says.
Minority business accelerators have launched in a handful of metropolitan areas in recent years as local businesses, chambers of commerce and economic development groups work to create more jobs and improve the quality of life in their regions. The Cincinnati accelerator, created by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber in 2003, has inspired officials and business people in the Greenville, S.C.; Charlotte, N.C., and Newark, N.J. areas to start similar programs.
A key goal of the accelerators is to help minority owned-companies win contracts with large companies. Despite the rapid growth in the number of minority-owned businesses — over 45 percent between 2002 and 2007, according to the Census Bureau — they struggle to get business with major companies. Many don’t have the ability to fulfill million-dollar contracts, something the accelerators aim to change. But there’s also a lingering perception that minority companies can’t do the job or can’t do it well, according to business owners and professors who study minority business. And although many minority companies can fulfill a contract, there’s still resistance at many large companies to taking risks with a new supplier, no matter who owns it.
“Most people are not racist. They just don’t like to change,” says Crystal German, vice president of economic inclusion at the Cincinnati Chamber.
WHAT ARE MINORITY BUSINESS ACCELERATORS?