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For Betty Francisco, new startup fund puts money with disadvantaged entrepreneurs

A new role for Callahan leads to a new name for MCBC; AT&T’s Boston boss now leads the whole Northeast; Donovan hangs up his own shingle; Comcast doles out dollars for digital equity

Betty Francisco, chief executive of the Boston Impact Initiative.Chris Morris

Betty Francisco remembers all too well how hard it was to find financing for her startup fitness business, Reimagine Play. She had established a professional network in the city, first as an attorney for dot-coms and venture capital firms and later as in-house counsel for Sports Club/LA.

But she also knew that very little of the startup capital in Boston went to Latina entrepreneurs like her.

Her fitness business did not pan out. But Francisco is helping dozens of other entrepreneurs of color avoid similar hardships as the chief executive of the Boston Impact Initiative, a nonprofit fund manager. BII’s first fund placed some $7 million with about 50 businesses. Francisco recently launched the second fund, aiming to raise $20 million to support entrepreneurs of color and community-governed real estate; so far, BII has raised about $3 million. Both of these funds are debt funds in which investors receive promissory notes rather than stock, and BII invests both debt and equity into the startups that benefit. Investments in the new fund can range from $1,000 to $25,000 for people with ordinary means, and from $10,000 to $3 million for accredited investors and philanthropies.

The second fund will broaden BII’s geographic reach to include more of Massachusetts beyond Greater Boston, as well as other New England states.

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As cofounder of Amplify Latinx, Francisco knows how important it can be to have a powerful advocacy organization on your side. But advocacy can only go so far. With BII, Francisco said BII has financial resources to help small business owners reach critical mass. Helping them build equity can lead to systemic change, by bringing wealth to communities that often lack it. It’s one reason she left her job at Compass Working Capital to join BII as its chief executive in 2021, taking over for its cofounder, Deborah Frieze.

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“As a leader within the Boston community that talks about racial justice and how we can amplify leaders of color, we are very limited if we just have one tool, advocacy,” Francisco said. “This organization gives me a very different footprint that allows me to create a fund that is about moving capital but also about advocating for the field to change.”

The hard lessons of her fitness venture from several years ago remind her what BII’s beneficiaries are up against.

“Massachusetts is so rich in resources, but it doesn’t often reach entrepreneurs of color or women,” she said. “I’m pretty well-networked. I know where to look. And even I had a challenging time.”

A new boss brings a new name to Community & Banking Council

Tom Callahan has been on staff at the Massachusetts Community & Banking Council for just under a year, and he’s already shaking things up.

Callahan left his longtime position running the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance a year ago to be the MCBC’s executive director. Now the council, overseen by a mix of bankers and activists, has a new name and identity, the Partnership for Financial Equity. (The original legal name will continue, but the “Partnership” moniker will be the name the public sees now.)

It’s a big change for a council that has been around for 32 years, created after the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston discovered discriminatory lending practices among many of Boston’s biggest banks.

The council was assembled to monitor banks’ community lending commitments and to maintain an open dialogue between activist organizations and the industry. It recently hired Woodstock Institute, a Chicago think tank, to produce its annual reports on mortgage and small business lending.

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Callahan said the new name was created to underscore the council’s mission, as well as to reflect a board decision to get more engaged in public policy — by weighing in on new Community Investment Act rules, for example, or studying state legislation that would require more disclosures for small business loans.

“‘Massachusetts Community Banking Council’ is a mouthful [and] it never said much to anybody,” Callahan said. “We as a board sat down earlier this year and said, ‘Let’s come up with a name that reflects what we’re trying to accomplish.”

An AT&T store in El Cerrito, Calif.David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

AT&T chief’s footprint just got bigger.

John Emra just got one of those promotions in which he now has to do the job of three-plus people. But he doesn’t seem to mind one bit.

Emra had been the New England president for Dallas-based telecom giant AT&T but now oversees the entire Atlantic region, combining his previous position and at least two others.

Emra is embracing the territory, which stretches from rural parts of West Virginia to the coast of Maine. He likes the variety and the impact that the region’s big cities such as Boston, New York, and Washington have on the world. It means a lot of time on the road for the Southern Connecticut resident, who grew up in Boston’s western suburbs. The territory doesn’t include local phone service but does cover cell service and fiber optic lines. He’s a familiar face around Boston in part because he helps spearhead AT&T’s philanthropy and university partnerships in the area and occasionally sneaks in a game at TD Garden or Fenway Park.

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Keeping tabs on such a large region wouldn’t be possible to do well without some assistance, and Emra says he’s getting that help from some of the best in the business: his colleagues.

“Managing high performers is the best thing you could do as a manager,” Emra said. “Being able to manage a great team of people is a blessing.”

Defense industry pro Donovan strikes out on his own.

After building a career out of connecting defense company leaders with their government counterparts while at law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, Joe Donovan is striking out on his own. The lobbyist is leaving the law firm’s Boston office to open his own firm, Donovan Strategies — above the restaurant space where he held his first job as a teenager, in Randolph.

Donovan earned his stripes working in then-governor Mitt Romney’s administration alongside then-economic affairs secretary Ranch Kimball, in part to protect Hanscom Air Force Base and the Natick Soldier Systems Center from being shut down in a massive round of base closures. He has spent more than a decade with Nelson Mullins, whose roots are in South Carolina, and has become an expert in the Massachusetts defense sector. He brings several clients with him to his new practice, including General Dynamics and electronics manufacturer SI2 Technologies.

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The idea of starting his own business has always been in the back of his mind, he said. Now, he has the expertise and connections to pull it off.

Comcast Corp. chief diversity officer Dalila Wilson-Scott spoke onstage as YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago received a $500,000 investment from Comcast to advance digital equity at YMCA Southside on July 20 in Chicago, Ill. Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images for Comcast

Comcast spreads some Christmas cheer on behalf of digital equity

Christmas came early for many nonprofits when Comcast Corp. chief diversity officer Dalila Wilson-Scott crisscrossed the state last month, giving out $600,000 in grants to increase digital access and equity.

Wilson-Scott was in Boston in November distributing about $500,000 to 17 organizations — including Tech Goes Home, Central Boston Elder Services, and One Bead. She also trekked to Springfield to deliver $100,000 to the Western Massachusetts Alliance for Digital Equity.

Groups are using the money to help people access the Internet and acquire digital skills.

“People have been so focused on affordability, but we’ve recognized for a long time adoption is a bigger barrier, trust is a bigger barrier,” said Wilson-Scott, who also serves as the president of Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of remote work, telemedicine, and education have highlighted the importance of online connectivity. Comcast’s grants are part of Project UP, a 10-year, $1 billion commitment the Philadelphia-based telecom giant has made to eliminate the digital divide.

“Most of us are connected every single day so we in some ways take it for granted,” Wilson-Scott said. “You can’t really be on that path to economic mobility without being connected.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto. Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com.