Terri Batch is the director of ITA’s Global Diversity Export Initiative.
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Each August we celebrate National Black Business Month, an annual observance that began nearly 20 years ago by two San Francisco-based Black business executives to highlight the remarkable achievements and contributions of Black-owned businesses across the United States. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, there are 3.6 million Black-owned businesses in the United States, generating $217 billion in annual revenue and supporting more than 3.56 million U.S. jobs. The financial impact of Black- or African American-owned businesses in the United States is multifaceted and dynamic, and translates into real economic impact and creates jobs for workers of all backgrounds.
The U.S. Department of Commerce is committed to carrying out the Biden-Harris Administration’s vision of advancing racial equity and support for disadvantaged or underserved communities. At the International Trade Administration (ITA), this means engaging with Black entrepreneurs and other minority-owned businesses to take their products and services global through exports. ITA offers tailored support for black-owned businesses via the Global Diversity Export Initiative (GDEI), a program that I lead which is designed to help minority-, women-, and LGBTQ+-, disabled-, and veteran-owned businesses showcase their capabilities to international partners. This type of sustained government-to-business (G2B) engagement and outreach efforts means a lot of travel for our team, both across the U.S. and internationally, which our team is proud to do to connect Black businesses with buyers, distributors, and key partners in foreign markets.
This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the 123rd Annual National Black Business Conference in Atlanta, organized by two ITA strategic partners, the National Business League (NBL) and the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC). We met with Black business owners from every corner of the country to promote ITA’s resources to support Black entrepreneurs – particularly those who haven’t previously engaged in international trade – discover new international markets for their products and services. During this event, I had the opportunity to moderate a Pan African Diaspora lunch panel that featured the services of the U.S. Commercial Service, Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM), the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Agency (USPTO), as well as entrepreneur and founder of Eminent Future, Isaac Barnes. This dynamic panel offered practical advice and support for black businesses pursuing business opportunities in Africa and beyond.
Throughout the conference, we were also joined by speakers from other federal agencies including U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Census Bureau, and Prosper Africa. This whole-of-government approach to provide support for black-owned businesses to grow and scale into international markets is essential to carry out an inclusive and equitable economic agenda. ITA’s team of trade specialists and representatives from other federal agencies at the conference were available throughout the conference to provide counselling and support to the more than 1,000 participants.
I was thrilled to share some insights and reflections from the historic GDEI trade mission to Africa led by Under Secretary for International Trade Marisa Lago earlier this month. Twenty-four U.S. companies explored partnership opportunities and created valuable connections in South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria markets. What was striking about this mission—22 of the 24 U.S. companies in tow were Black-owned firms or associations, specializing in sectors including technology, cybersecurity, health/beauty products, and electric automotives.
The mission provided a tangible deliverable to support black-owned businesses expand into Africa. Executing the GDEI trade mission and participating in the black business conference in Atlanta are two ways in which ITA amplified black businesses during the month of August. What was even more exciting about the conference in Atlanta, is that five of the companies that participated in the trade mission that ended only a few weeks earlier, changed their schedules to attend the Atlanta conference. The relationships and bonds that were created during the mission amongst the trade mission participants laid an important foundation for future engagement and created an ecosystem for continued support for black businesses in international expansion.
Tiffany Cartwright, Owner of Amarra Products, participated in both the trade mission and the Atlanta conference. She remarked that, “After the amazing trade mission to Africa, I was honestly done traveling for the year. However, because of the amazing experience and awesome folks on the trade mission, especially my dearly esteemed colleague from Detroit, Dr. Ken Harris, I could not miss the opportunity to connect in Atlanta and I am so very glad I did. In addition to connecting with my fellow GDEI trade mission participants, I was able to meet business contacts to expand G.L.A.M. Body Scrubs into Uganda, Kenya, Senegal and India.”
Companies such as DiverseIT seized the opportunity to work with ITA to expand their global footprint and create lasting impact. On the recent GDEI trade mission, DiverseIT, which specializes in providing premiere solutions and services in various areas of information technology, was able to take advantage of ITA business-to-business matchmaking service to sell IT services in South Africa and Ghana. Derrick Knox, Jr., Founder and CEO of DiverseIT remarked that, “The GDEI Trade Mission to Africa has really been an experience of a lifetime. The opportunities it afforded me as a black business owner has been second to none. We had productive conversations with people, government officials, and local businesses on the continent about ways we cannot just be distributors, but contributors to Africa. DiverseIT is grateful for the overall experience and excited about the future ahead.”
Furthermore, Funlayo Alabi, President of Shea Radiance, writes in her LinkedIn reflection about the trade mission that, “This trade mission was a success for us on so many levels. We strengthened our network through meaningful connections with fellow delegates and made many important business connections in South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria. These connections have the potential to significantly grow our business. I am grateful for the GDEI efforts to level the playing field for minority owned businesses by providing access to opportunities in Africa and the global market.”
These are just a few examples of companies that exemplify the potential and resilience of Black-owned businesses in the international arena. So, whether you’re an entrepreneur, startup or an established enterprise, ITA is here to offer valuable assistance to Black business owners looking to export their products or services abroad.
Not sure where to start? Here are several ways you can engage with ITA:
- Attend a ‘Building Bridges to Global Markets’ event: ITA hosts a workshop series that introduces prospective exporters and associations to facilitate growth, promote innovation, and open doors to new opportunities for Black and other minority-owned businesses across America. See the schedule of upcoming events near you.
- ‘Discover Global Markets’ will take place next month in a city near you! These one-day business forums will feature opportunities to connect with industry leaders, schedule one-on-one meetings with U.S. commercial diplomats and specialists based in key European markets, and network with fellow exporters.
- Apply for the GDEI focused ExporTech Training™: GDEI is partnering with the National Alliance of Black Business to conduct a virtual series of six 3-hour trainings that include one-on-one export training and coaching over an 11-week period. The program will accelerate a company’s export strategic planning process into a concise time frame. Application deadline is September 30, 2023. For more information or to apply, contact Eve Lerman at Eve.Lerman@trade.gov.
- Connect with ITA’s trade experts and an ITA trade specialist to learn more about resources and tools available to help you compete successfully in the global marketplace.
After participating in a Building Bridges event in South Los Angeles, Sarah Harris, President & CEO, of the Black Business Association said, “A driving force behind America’s industrial prowess since its inception has been the ingenuity and enterprise of the Black community. Presently, with over 3 million Black-owned businesses operating in the United States, a growing proportion of them are engaged in producing goods and commodities rather than adhering strictly to service-oriented models. This shift signifies an unprecedented surge in possibilities for expanding exports. Participating in U.S. Commercial’s Building Bridges to Global Markets event proved to be an enlightening and warmly welcomed educational experience. It provided insights into the available resources that empower small enterprises to receive the necessary backing and resources for international growth and prosperity.”
ITA’s work to support Black business owners isn’t limited to the 31 days of August. We encourage Black-owned businesses to connect with us year-round to explore the resources available for their international endeavors. Together, we can ensure that Black entrepreneurs continue to make significant contributions to the U.S. economy and the global business landscape. By empowering Black businesses, we contribute to a more diverse, inclusive, and prosperous future for all.