Help LGBTQ+ Businesses Grow
Resources to Help LGBTQ+ Businesses Grow
By David Barbee, Head of LGBT+ Initiatives at JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking
LGBTQ+ business owners are an essential part of our nation’s economy, accounting for more than $1.7 trillion in economic impact, according to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). They face similar strategic challenges as other business owners in an uncertain economic environment but are additionally burdened by the risk of discrimination and inequitable access to capital, training/coaching, and other important resources that aid business growth. For example, the NGLCC reports that less than 1% of venture capital funding goes to LGBTQ+ companies.
My passion for helping solve these pressing challenges is motivated, in part, by my own experiences. I have dedicated my entire 20+ year professional career to helping business owners succeed, and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I know on a personal level what it feels like to be excluded and treated as “different.” Today I serve as the Head of LGBTQ+ Initiatives for JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking, where I partner closely with JPMorgan Chase’s Office of LGBT+ Affairs to break down barriers to important financial resources and promote a safe space for LGBTQ+ business owners to develop a truly inclusive banking relationship and grow their businesses.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen firsthand the immense value a network of relationships can offer in helping businesses thrive. In fact, a developed network can be a key resource for business owners navigating complex issues like regulatory and operational risks, determining the right sources of capital and other financial resources when needed, and deciding when and how to sell a business. Today I’m encouraged by the expanding network of resources created specifically to help LGBTQ+ businesses grow. Still, we know there’s more work to be done to ensure an inclusive environment and equitable access to needed resources.
In the spirit of sharing, here are some of the top resources I often discuss with current and aspiring LGBTQ+ business owners.
Explore LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE) Certification
Many LGBTQ+-owned businesses in the U.S., particularly B2B businesses, can benefit from becoming a certified LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE) with the NGLCC. Open to any business that is at least 51% owned, operated, managed and controlled by a person or people identifying as LGBTQ+, this designation provides unique and potentially transformational business opportunities.
Once approved, enterprises can tap into networking opportunities with over 400 corporations, NGOs and governmental bodies looking to form strategic partnerships with, invest in and do business with the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, certification provides opportunities for mentorships and continuing education programs to help business owners improve their skills – all offered through the NGLCC.
Getting certified is a straightforward online process that can be accomplished, from start to finish, within a month.
Discover Specialized Accelerator Programs
I’ve also seen a growing trend among many corporations and investors looking to directly support LGBTQ+ businesses, resulting in the emergence of LGBTQ+-dedicated accelerator and mentorship programs.
An organization I work with regularly is StartOut, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization focused on growing LGBTQ+ businesses. Through the StartOut Growth Lab accelerator, the organization brings cohorts of early-stage companies twice a year for mentoring, education and networking opportunities.
Since StartOut’s inception in 2017, the organization has assisted more than 56 companies raise $756 million in funding and create over 3,650 new jobs through its Growth Lab program.
StartOut has also done a phenomenal job building a community for LGBTQ+ business owners. AJ DeLeon, CEO of Innovare and one of the current Growth Lab cohort participants, summed it up well when he said, “It can be a bit lonely to be gay and Latinx in the tech space, and despite societal progress there are prevalent biases in the ecosystem. With StartOut, I’ve found a tribe of champions; an international community of investors and peers who are willing to support me as an individual and help my business reach its goals too.”
Finding a Safe Space
We in the community know it is often not easy, or even safe in certain instances, to disclose our LGBTQ+ identity. This often plays out in the business setting as well. The Movement Advancement Project found that 37% of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs chose not to self-identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community during fundraising, with 12% citing concerns that it might hurt their chances to access capital.
It took me years to feel comfortable bringing my full self to work, and that journey is personal for every individual. Ultimately, I realized that by hiding my authentic self I was creating a barrier to professional growth and self-fulfillment in my work. I encourage LGBTQ+ business owners to seek out safe spaces, or even create their own by engaging with groups like StartOut or the NGLCC in their local communities. More importantly, I call on leaders across the business community to create safe spaces for their LGBTQ+ clients to feel supported and thrive.
Improving equitable access to important financial resources will continue to be a work in progress. I believe the more we can do as business leaders to prioritize the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, the more business owners will feel comfortable being visible—which will, in turn, lead to greater access to critical resources for their businesses to grow and succeed. We are seeing new resources emerge every day to support the journeys of LGBTQ+ business owners. I am optimistic that as these resources grow, so will the economic impact of LGBTQ+ businesses on our communities at large.