B Smart Program Commits $25,000 to Support Small Businesses Owned by Women of Color

A group of LeBow College graduate students and B Smart facilitators Kevin Williams and alumnus Jabari Jones in 2019. Photo credit: Soneyet Muhammad.
A group of LeBow College graduate students and B Smart facilitators Kevin Williams and alumnus Jabari Jones in 2019. Photo credit: Soneyet Muhammad.

This story was written by Soneyet Muhammad, director of workforce and economic inclusion in the Office of University and Community Partnerships at Drexel University.

On Jan. 14, the B Smart small business development program — held at Drexel University in partnership with the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative and the West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution (WPFSI) — concluded its 2021 program at the University City Science Center’s Venture Café by committing over $25,000 to support early stage and small businesses owned by women of color.

Because this cohort launched in the digital environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, the program accepted a smaller group of ten entrepreneurs with local businesses, of which five graduated the program with a well-developed business plan, pitch deck and capability statement.

This year, four businesses presented in the winter cohort Pitch and Present event, which was emceed by Drexel University’s Chuck Sacco, assistant dean of the Close School. Program judges this year included:

  • James R. Burnett, executive director of WPFSI
  • Leslie Benoliel, CEO of Entrepreneur Works
  • Rich Campbell, senior vice president, Business Banking Regional Director at Citizens Bank
  • Jill Fink, executive director of The Merchants Fund
  • Evy Cruz, non-profit and small business coordinator at Philly VIP
  • Arthur Gimenez, loan officer, PIDC

The Pitch and Present event concluded with two businesses receiving loans from WPFSI and Entrepreneur Works: Advocate For Me, a Black-owned childcare center that provides high quality programming for special-needs children and their families, and Flourish Bakeshop, an Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI)-owned bakery offering high-quality custom baked goods. Flourish has a commitment to hire and train returning citizens to become pastry chefs. Both businesses individually earned additional small-dollar loans from Citizens Bank and The Merchants Fund to further support their development, thereby lowering their cost of capital.

L’Vonne McMillan, the founder of the Advocate For Me childcare center. Photo courtesy L’Vonne McMillan.

“This truly was a pleasure to be accepted and recognized for my work in West Philadelphia,” said L’Vonne McMillan, the founder of Advocate For Me.

Binh Applegate, the co-founder of Flourish Bakeshop, said, “We aim to make a social impact with our business to bring the flourishing of individuals, our community and our beloved city of Philadelphia.”

“We are proud of all of our participants and want to thank our partners for their continued support of our program,” said Kevin Williams, business specialist at Drexel’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, and alumnus Jabari Jones, president of the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative, who co-lead this initiative.

Drexel’s LeBow College of Business graduate students and other Drexel professional staff volunteered as individual business coaches throughout the program. Each cohort concludes with a pitch competition where participants have the opportunity to pitch their businesses for loans and grants to fund startup costs and expansion. The Close School of Entrepreneurship faculty and staff serve as follow-on coaches with the funded businesses as they develop the capacity of their business.

Started in 2017, this ten-week entrepreneurship program addresses the lack of accessible business programming in West Philadelphia for microenterprises. In 2019, 89% of B Smart program participants were women, and 93% of all participants were Black or African American. Approximately 65% were residents of West and Southwest Philadelphia. Of the 28 participants in the last cohort, 17 (60%) had existing businesses. In the past three years, the B Smart program has committed over $132,000 in loans to participating small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Flourish Bakery co-founders Cynthia Sung, left, and Binh Applegate. Photo courtesy Flourish Bakery.

The next cohort will start in September 2021.

Here’s what Drexel’s partners had to say about the program and partnership:

“We are excited to continue our partnership with Drexel University and the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative that is continuing to bring much-needed resources to small businesses in West Philadelphia. We look forward to growing the B Smart Program in other neighborhoods across Philadelphia by providing capital to help small businesses in these difficult times,” said James Burnett, executive director of the West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution.

“Small businesses are the heart of our community and we are thankful for the opportunity to partner with West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative to deliver financial education and participate in the Pitch & Present competition,” said Sharana Worsley, community development market manager and CRA Officer at Citizens Bank.

Jill Fink, the executive director of The Merchants Fund agreed: “Small businesses, whether early-stage or well-established, are facing unprecedented challenges that call on all of us who do work in this ecosystem from coaching to technical assistance [or] grants.”