The Harlem Business Alliance Launches the Lillian Project for Aspiring Black Women Entrepreneurs

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black women entrepreneursBY SERGIE WILLOUGHBY

With the help of a $300,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Harlem Business Alliance has launched The Lillian Project to help low-income, African American women in Harlem get their entrepreneurial projects off the ground.

“The Lillian Project is a hyper-focused incubator available to native born African American women who are low to middle income and reside in Harlem. It’s not a social venture. It’s not a charity; it’s a business opportunity,” Gina Ramcharan, project director of The Lillian Project told TNJ.com

According to Ramcharan, who owns her own business and is on the auxiliary staff of the HBA, the project will be comprised of four co-horts over a two-year period. Each co-hort will consist of 12 weeks’ worth of master classes that will: provide education and mentoring needed to start and grow a business while providing hands-on support with strategic planning, business development, financial aptitude and implementation; ensure that women who operate home-based businesses expand into a storefront or office; help women entrepreneurs obtain financing from sources other than traditional banks; and expand the types of industries women-owned businesses operate, especially in the technology sector.

Women will not only be introduced to the modules of a business plan of which at the end they will have a solid written business plan, but there will also be components of health and wellness because “we want whole body and whole mind to be a part of it,” Ramcharan notes.

And the hope is that participants of The Lillian Project pass their success on to the children in their homes and communities.

“The belief of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is that children should have an equal opportunity to thrive. If you can put a parent on the trajectory for success, you are putting a child on the trajectory for success. We’re coming from that approach,” shares Ramcharan.

Regina Smith, executive director of the HBA, agrees and touts the importance of Black women entrepreneurs. In a recent interview, she told TNJ.com, “Black women owned businesses are extremely important in many ways in our communities. As Black women, we are challenged constantly in the workforce and entrepreneurship provides women with another vehicle for supporting themselves. Also, women are often role models for their children who might be encouraged to become entrepreneurs themselves. Particularly in African American communities, we don’t find our youth becoming entrepreneurs. So, we need to encourage that on all levels and certainly if we get women involved, who tend to set the stage for the community as a whole, it can happen.”

She continues, “That’s not to say that the HBA is not interested in furthering and supporting Black male entrepreneurship. We do that as well. But we are in a great situation right now to be able to do both and target our focus to native born African American women here in the Harlem community.”

The Harlem Business Alliance has pledged its service as an advocate for the preservation and retention of Harlem’s business community for over 36 years. Programs include but are not limited to: Harlem’s first co-working space; first adult stem program; 10,000 entrepreneurs served through programs and services; 2,000 entrepreneurs received 1-1 counseling and over 1,200 workshops.

The Lillian Project is the first project it has taken on solely for women.

“The goal is that the women from the program open their own business or at least make the attempt. For some women, they may not believe that this is something they can do, so we want to provide them with the information, the support, and the connections to help them further their dreams. And for those women who are interested in seeing it through to the end, we want to provide them with as much support as we can garner. It’s also about getting the awareness out. Some of the women who go through the program might determine that this is something they don’t want to do at this point in time. But, at least they will be well educated in this regard and they can share that knowledge,” says Smith.

The application window is now open and Ramcharan says they have already received several applications from women who have already become entrepreneurs as well as women who have taken the first steps of creating and registering their business, but haven’t actually launched the business. 25 women will be selected for each co-hort, 5 of which will then be selected for an accelerator that will put them into business implementation status.

(CLICK HERE for another article about Black women entrepreneurs.)