Motivated by their shared love for fashion, Jasmine and Angelique Gordon launched a personal styling business out of their living room in 2014. Six years later, the sisters now welcome customers to their Salt Lake City storefront.
Before starting A’la Mode, though, the two had no experience running a company.
“We didn’t really see a lot of options for funding,” Jasmine said. So, the sisters pooled their money and were mentored by a Salt Lake City restaurant owner.
If New Pattern Utah — a new resource dedicated to funding and supporting Black female business founders — existed when the Gordons were getting A’ la Mode off the ground, Jasmine said it would’ve been helpful. They could’ve connected with founders of other clothing businesses, she said, and they might not have had to figure out as many steps on their own.
Nationally, Black women are starting businesses at a faster rate than any other demographic, according to American Express’ 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. While the number of female-owned businesses overall grew 21% from 2014 to 2019, businesses owned by Black and African American women grew at a rate of 50%, the report shows.
Paluch said the impetus for New Pattern Utah came after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. Leaders of Beta Boom, Womenpreneurs, Sorensen Capital and the Utah Black Chamber “came together and decided to do something.”
“All of us don’t want this momentum to be lost,” she said. “So, we are intending for this to continue long after we make these first grantee announcements.”
Getting a business started
More than 50 business owners have applied for a grant, worth up to $10,000, from New Pattern Utah as of Friday, and Paluch said officials plan to announce the first three to five recipients in October. The program is ongoing, and applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. In addition to funding, the grant also provides mentorship and networking possibilities.
Alyssha Dairsow is one of the people hoping to receive a grant. She started her nonprofit, Curly Me!, in 2015 specifically to “educate, empower and encourage” Black girls ages 5 to 14 “to be their best selves.”
Dairsow, who describes herself as an extrovert, said she has no problem asking questions and reaching out to new people — “it’s just who do you ask?”
She said it was tricky to connect with people throughout the state since she’s originally from New Jersey. And while she knew her nonprofit’s mission, she found it difficult to “put language to what I was trying to do” to get more people on board.
“It just helps when there’s someone who understands the culture, to help you get into different areas,” Dairsow said.
When Emma Houston started her event-planning business, Brighter Day Productions, in 2007, she thought she had to figure everything out on her own. She went online to learn how to create an LLC and file her company with the state, and she used her savings to get the business going.
“It never dawned on me to look for resources out in the community,” she said.
Houston believes New Pattern Utah “is going to do leaps and bounds for women who want to get into business but don’t know how.”
Creating and owning her own business has been a “dream come true” for Melinda Anderson. After retiring as a flight attendant with Delta Air Lines, she started Casual Cuisine Caterers with inheritance money. She also studied culinary arts at Salt Lake Community College, worked for another catering business and attended workshops and programs to learn about finance and marketing as she got going.
“It has given me a lot of joy to know that I am capable to do this,” Anderson said, and she hopes her success shows her children and community members that they can do it, too.
Black women ‘carve their own path’
The reason Black women are starting businesses at such a rapid rate is probably due to “a combination of things,” Paluch said, including innovation and necessity. “A lot of times, startups and founders leave opportunities, or aren’t given opportunities, and, therefore, they go and create them themselves.”
If the market isn’t creating opportunities for women to advance and support their families, then they might choose to “carve their own path,” Paluch said. The trick is in getting the funding to that.
“When we look at the venture capital space, only 2.8% of capital goes to woman at all, and half a percent goes to Black female founders,” Paluch said. “Those numbers just can’t be justified by probability alone. It’s clear that there are systemic reasons why women aren’t given an equal playing field in order to access that capital.”
New Pattern Utah can help to change that, she said, by supporting Black female founders as they develop their businesses.
“I know what the data is,” Paluch said, “but I wouldn’t be in this field if I didn’t think there was hope and opportunity.”