To build an economy that is truly inclusive, we have to look at all aspects of economic development. This is particularly true in the Puget Sound region, where the recent influx of wealth has not resulted in economic prosperity for everyone.

At Ventures, we use entrepreneurship to support members of underserved communities. We believe that we can empower individuals by helping them launch and grow microbusinesses – and that’s why we are partnering with the People’s Economy Lab (PEL) to bring this solution forward in our local economy.

At Ventures, we use microenterprise and small business development to help entrepreneurs with limited resources find their way in Seattle’s dynamic and highly competitive economy. Entrepreneurship can be an effective, rewarding path forward for many low-income Seattleites, and we provide a comprehensive toolbox to realize this vision.

Originally founded in 1995, Ventures is a nonprofit organization that provides customized coaching, incubation, financing, and advocacy for low-income entrepreneurs. We serve those in our community for whom traditional business development services are out of reach, with a focus on women, people of color, and immigrant business owners. Our ultimate goal is to enable individuals to increase their income potential, achieve long-term financial stability, provide for their families, and create opportunities for community development through small business ownership.

We are a part of the PEL because we embrace the Lab’s vision of a local economy that works for everyone. Entrepreneurship cannot offer everyone a route to a better life, but in some cases it is the best answer to the question of how to break the cycle of poverty. We also know that there is a significant demand for technical assistance and small business development training in communities throughout the region. Our classes continue to fill up with aspiring entrepreneurs that are looking to build a business that allows them to stay in their neighborhood, afford their children’s college tuition, or put food on the table for themselves and their families.

We also believe that the PEL offers us a valuable resource to incubate new and innovative ideas. Innovation is one of our core values, and we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can stay on the cutting edge and help create an economy that is more supportive of microbusiness and inclusive for entrepreneurs of all backgrounds. As we innovate, experiment, and iterate on these new exciting ideas, we maintain a strong focus on the needs of our entrepreneurs – or what we call “client success.”

In the innovative spirit of the PEL, we have started or expanded several exciting new programs in the last year. Each of these programs strives to address one or more of the many challenges facing low-income entrepreneurs in the Puget Sound region. Together, we hope that this new work will help us address the intersectional nature of the barriers facing our entrepreneurs.

First, we recently reinvested in the Ventures Marketplace, our retail store and business incubator in Pike Place Market that features the incredible work of more than 75 of our entrepreneurs. We consistently hear that access to markets is a primary barrier for low-income business owners, who may not have the capital, networks, or geographic access to new customers. That’s why we worked with local elected officials, community leaders, and partners from the People’s Economy Lab to re-launch the Ventures Marketplace in December 2017.

We have also tried to do more to reach entrepreneurs at all stages of their lives, even the most difficult. In 2018, these efforts have led us to pilot a program with inmates at a women’s prison on the Olympic Peninsula. In a nation that incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world, we believe this could be one option for lifting up inmates during their time in prison and during their reentry period as well. By thinking creatively, we are doing everything that we can to support economically disadvantaged women owned small business in hard-to-reach communities.

Another part of our work that connects closely with the mission of the PEL is our new policy and advocacy program. In the last two years, our community has had to reckon with a new reality in the world of public policy. At Ventures and in the Lab, this has led us to reexamine our ability to achieve systemic change on behalf of low-income Americans. After doing a deep dive on potential new programs that would support entrepreneurs with limited resources, we decided to invest in an advocacy program focused on helping Ventures entrepreneurs speak out on behalf of microbusiness owners everywhere. Through this program, we are organizing entrepreneurs and working to create and release Ventures’ first-ever policy agenda in 2018.

The final innovation is something that we’ve created to address a recurring challenge at Ventures and many other nonprofit organizations – our team cannot possibly meet the demand for technical assistance in the fields of microbusiness and small business development, especially when working in historically underserved communities that can be difficult to access with high quality programming. That’s why we recently created the Ventures Network, a “consulting arm” that allows us to leverage our knowledge and experience to reach even more communities than before. Through the Ventures Network, we provide organizations with comprehensive, data-driven business development services in English and Spanish that empower marginalized communities through small business ownership.

Each of these four innovations speaks to the challenges that we are working to address at the PEL. Without a holistic, intersectional viewpoint of the barriers to an inclusive economy, we will not be able to meet the needs of underserved populations in our communities. We believe that truly achieving equity – not just equality – in business will require us to dig deep, innovate, and collaborate to scale our impact. Join us by connecting with the People’s Economy Lab today or learning more about Ventures and our work on our website.   

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