Colette Phillips, Andre Porter, and Michael Benezra got the idea to launch a fund for small businesses owned by people of color in 2019, before the pandemic and the George Floyd protests threw the issue of racial equity into stark relief.
Now, after the most tumultuous year in recent memory, their idea seems even more timely.
To coincide with Black History Month, they are unveiling the GK Fund, with a goal to reach many small businesses that have not yet received state or federal COVID-19 assistance. They have raised about $250,000 so far from the likes of PNC Bank, the Eos and Hyams foundations, and individual donors including Pamela Reeve and Damian Wilmot. The initial plan is to dole out $10,000 grants to 10 companies.
The GK Fund founders had seen how white-owned startups attracted the vast majority of venture funding, and wanted to offer a counterpoint. The original concept morphed some after the pandemic and racial justice events, and, they said, grew in importance.
“In 2019, this was really urgent,” said Benezra, chief operating officer at Colette Phillips’s marketing firm and executive director of the GK Fund. “In 2020, it became even more so.”
They hope to start accepting applications in May and to pick the first recipients by early June. Only businesses owned by people of color with revenue below $100,000 last year will be eligible.
Recipients can use the money to buy inventory, hire staff or consultants, or cover the rent — among other expenses. In particular, website development will be a focus: As a GK Fund supporter, the Israeli software firm Wix.com is offering participating businesses a Web presence for a nominal fee.
The nonprofit GK Fund is the latest venture for Phillips and her marketing firm, Colette Phillips Communications. Phillips specializes in promoting businesses owned by people of color and connecting them with the media and Boston’s business establishment.
Needless to say, Phillips has been busy in the past year. Among her other efforts: helping to launch the New Commonwealth Fund, an effort by prominent Black executives to raise millions for nonprofits that help address racial inequities, and expanding her Get Konnected! networking series — the “GK” in the GK Fund — to include an online marketplace.
Phillips said there isn’t any overlap between the New Commonwealth Fund and the GK Fund. The GK Fund serves small for-profit businesses, which she said are typically left out of philanthropic efforts.
Porter, a business consultant who used to be a top state economic development official, said the GK Fund, its board of directors, and its allies can also provide mentorship and advice to participants.
“With many of these small businesses, the owners don’t have a founding team; they’re wearing many hats at the same time,” Porter said. “This is really trying to support them and plug in the gaps of their expertise so they can focus on growing their businesses, and not just surviving until the end of the week.”
GK Fund board member C.A. Webb, president of the Kendall Square Association, said the events of the past year have made many companies eager to address racial inequities. The GK Fund, Webb said, “is one more meaningful venue, run by leaders in our community who have been doing this all along.”