The COVID-19 pandemic, which compounded long-lingering economic disparities for communities of color, added urgency to the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator (MBA) 2020 plan to create a sustainable source of growth funding. The result, MBA Fund I, is currently securing commitments toward its $100 million fundraising goal.
First Financial Bank has signed on with a $1.75 million commitment and will continue its support through future phases, according to Roddell McCullough, its chief corporate responsibility officer. “We see our relationship with the accelerator as our opportunity to support and develop minority businesses of scale as well as small businesses within the region,” he says. “This was something easy for us to get behind and see it bring benefit to the region. Our goal as a bank is to help our clients and communities thrive.”
Ed Rigaud, a member of the accelerator’s board of managers, says the fund will help companies facilitate acquisitions. “The key is that there are important companies owned by members of the majority community who do not have succession plans and who are ready to sell their companies,” he says. “We need buyers from minority communities who can assume ownership and control of those companies, and the MBA Fund I can help make that happen.”
The fund’s other important aspect, Rigaud says, is to provide growth funding to scalable minority-owned enterprises, with the focus being on African American and Hispanic-owned firms. “The Cincinnati MBA is unique in that it’s both a mentor and a resource organization,” he says. “The MBA can work closely with member firms owned by African Americans and Hispanics to enhance strategies for growth, forge new relationships and networks, and obtain the necessary funding to execute business plans and/or make strategic acquisitions.”
McCullough says investing in MBA Fund I builds on First Financial Bank’s community development strategy ALIVE, which is focused on expanding access to lending and financial services in places historically under-resourced, making strategic community investment, and facilitating volunteerism focused on financial education. “When you compare the efforts of Cincinnati to support minority business development, we’re crushing it compared to others,” he says. “But looking at it on a macro scale, it’s still not enough. The more we can do to support minority business development, particularly those businesses of scale that can provide services to Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies, it’s good for the region. It’s good for us to encourage other metropolitan areas to do the same.”
Mel Gravely, an entrepreneur and member of the accelerator’s board of managers, says the fund builds on the Cincinnati region’s reputation as a national model for growing larger-scale minority-owned businesses. “We already have companies of scale, we already have a reputation, we already have a community that understands what we are trying to create,” he says, “and now we have an additional flywheel element that allows it to happen.” Creating and growing more successful minority-owned companies will increase the size of the region’s overall economic pie, Rigaud says. “This is key to providing opportunities for everyone to participate in our economy at both the worker and owner levels.”