Michael Banks

Michael Banks is the managing director of Employment, Opportunity and Entrepreneurship of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.


United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey has launched an effort to build an inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The Built By Philly initiative is a partnership between United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce, and PIDC to address historical inequities for the city’s Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs.

The effort is one of the outcomes of the May 2021 Philadelphia Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Assessment which highlighted that, while Black and Latinx Philadelphians account for 44% and 17% of the city’s population, they only own 5% and 4% of all small employer businesses, respectively.

“The study brought to light truths about the challenges faced by people of color in owning and maintaining small businesses,” said Michael Banks, managing director of Employment, Opportunity and Entrepreneurship of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.

“Small businesses play a critical role in helping shape and grow our local economy. If we want to build our city, we need to close the racial wealth gap and present equitable avenues for economic opportunity. This assessment gave us clear direction and specific action items in addressing these challenges and inequities — and implementation begins now.”

During a virtual event held at IF Lab on Tuesday, Banks was joined by James Johnson-Piett, principal and CEO of Urbane; Jennifer Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Tayyib Smith, serial entrepreneur and principal of Meta Global, to unveil the Built by Philly microsite.

The site features BIPOC entrepreneurs from diverse industries, growth stages, and Philadelphia neighborhoods sharing the challenges they face and their ideas for a stronger ecosystem.

“The site ties the research in the report to real stories around entrepreneurship in the city,” Johnson-Piett said during the site’s unveiling.

“Their ideas and recommendations are here to nuance the solutions that are going to be born from this initiative. Most importantly the microsite that today features examples from our amazing BIPOC entrepreneurs across different neighborhoods and industries will soon become a connection point for all entrepreneurs in the city to plug in solutions that are being built in real time,” Johnson-Piett said.

The microsite will evolve into a comprehensive online tool — the first step in a 13-step action plan — that connects BIPOC business owners to capital, education, resources and networking opportunities.

“Philadelphia’s entrepreneur ecosystem is very fragmented and very difficult to navigate,” Rodriquez stated during the event. “That is precisely why the Built by Philly initiative and the platform is so exciting for us.”

“It has the potential to break down many of the barriers faced by business owners by mapping resources and opportunities available throughout the city and beyond and connecting entrepreneurs with the resources and the opportunities through a single integrated platform,” she continued.

Rodriquez spoke about challenges and disparities faced by the city’s Hispanic-owned businesses. She said Latino-owned businesses are over represented in the industries disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with 40% concentrated in the restaurant, hospitality and personal care sectors throughout North, lower Northeast and South Philadelphia’s commercial corridors.

Smith reiterated the need for Philadelphia’s diverse population to benefit from the city’s economy growth.

“We are in the most diverse city in the U.S., which is the densest part of the country and if Philadelphia is going to be a functioning metropolitan in the future we have to have genuine inclusion by all citizens,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of transition in contemporary times but we have not seen Black and brown people who are indigenous Philadelphians reap the benefits of the 21st century economy and the investment.”

Smith highlighted the IF Lab’s efforts to bring economic growth to the Kensington community — an area with an estimated 49% unemployment.

The event also included the announcement of a $750,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase. JPMorgan Chase’s investment will go towards closing gaps and implementing solutions within Philadelphia’s entrepreneurship ecosystem in four key areas including access to capital, market opportunities, trusted services and ecosystem infrastructure.

“This investment in BIPOC entrepreneurship in Philadelphia is a testament both to the crucial needs of entrepreneurs of color and JPMorgan Chase’s commitment to racial equity,” Stephen Wright, managing director at JPMorgan Chase said in a news release. “Built By Philly is directly aligned with our mission to invest in the communities we serve, and break down barriers to opportunity and create an economy that works for all people.”

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