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This is how minority-owned businesses are expanding thanks to a free program offered by JPMorgan Chase

Queerencia owner and founder Ty Collier

Written on Cristina Avila’s desk are the four C’s of getting approved for funding and capital.

If a business has those four C’s — cash flow, credit, collateral and cash on hand — chances are she can get them financing to grow, said Avila, a senior business consultant for minority businesses at JPMorgan Chase.

In June 2022, Avila started the local minority entrepreneurship program, which has been at other JPMorgan Chase locations since its 2020 launch.

Cristina Avila, a senior business consultant for minority businesses at JPMorgan Chase.

Since then, she has helped many small business owners to grow their companies. Right now, she’s working with 50 small business owners, although others who have graduated from the six-month program still check in with her monthly.

The goal? Bridging the wealth gap.

White Americans have 84% of the nation’s wealth but account for 60% of the population, while Black Americans have 4% of the wealth and account for 13% of the population, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

And the bank is doing it "because it's the right thing to do," Avila said.

It's part of a bigger commitment to racial equity by JPMorgan Chase.

After George Floyd Jr., a Black man, was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020, setting off calls for racial justice across the nation, the bank made a $30 billion commitment. It was meant to "help close the racial wealth gap and advance economic inclusion among Black, Hispanic and Latino customers and communities that are underserved in the U.S.," according to JP Morgan Chase's website.

How does the minority entrepreneurship program work?

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Avila meets with the owners biweekly and views her role as a strategic partner. She helps owners track short- and long-term goals and talk strategy.

"A lot of business owners work in the business but they don't work on the business," Avila said, meaning they don't step back to see the bigger picture and plan for their company's future. "So, having those 30 minutes with me biweekly allows us to work on the business."

To take part in the program, a business needs to have been in business for two years or more and have $100,000 in revenue, Avila said. They also need to be minority-owned, which can include women, veterans, LGBTQ people and racial minorities.

The program is free and those interested don't have to bank with JPMorgan Chase. They can apply to enter the program online at chase.com/business/knowledge-center/investing-in-success/minority-entrepreneurship.

Ty Collier, owner of LGBTQ lifestyle brand Queerencia, is one of the local business owners who have graduated from the program.

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When Collier began having meetings with Avila, she offered him access to people, resources and funding he may not otherwise have gotten, he said. It helped him to secure and grow his business.

"I'm a hungry entrepreneur," Collier said. "It was a no-brainer once the program was presented to me, and it's been so beneficial for us to be involved in the program."

Lack of resources can be one of the biggest hurdles for minority business owners, Avila said, but so can lack of knowledge, in some cases. She helps them build a foundation and get the resources, no matter where they come from.

"He knew where he wanted to take his business, my role is to help him get there," Avila said of Collier.

As Collier's business grew and he graduated from the program, his relationship with JPMorgan Chase has continued. He moved on to work primarily with another banker, but his relationship with Avila started what she hopes is a long-term relationship with the company.

What is Queerencia?

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Queerencia owner and founder Ty Collier with products from his business

Collier, who lives in Italian Village, began Queerencia in October 2020, launching the brand in March 2021, after previously working at a wholesale apparel company his family owned.

The pandemic gave him the space and opportunity to do something he cares about, he said.

“The LGBTQIA+ community is a marginalized group that is underserved and sometimes the voices of the community are not heard,” he said. "That's the primary focus, just being able to amplify the voices of the community and create space for inclusivity and equality."

Queerencia.co, for which Collier hopes to have a new office space locally by the end of summer, sells clothing, hats, stickers, bags, blankets and more.

During June, for Pride Month, Collier and his team of six travel around the Midwest doing pop-up events at Pride parades and other events.

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Avila helped Collier gain access to capital, get certified as a minority-owned business with the state, become an approved supplier for JPMorgan Chase and gain more networking opportunities.

The ongoing relationship has been "extremely beneficial," Collier said.

"There's always something to come from the program," Collier said. "There's a wealth of knowledge from this long-lasting institution."

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