Black entrepreneurs in Atlanta still lack access to capital

From the mom-and-pop shops on Auburn Avenue to major tech companies started by HBCU graduates, Atlanta has it all when it comes to Black-owned businesses.

According to online lending website Lending Tree, Atlanta leads the nation in creating black-owned businesses, but systemic barriers remain.

Toby Egbuna is sitting at The Gathering Spot, a black-owned members-only club and events venue in Atlanta, working on his laptop as Outkast blares over the speakers.

“I think there’s no better place to be than Atlanta, especially for Black founders,” he said.

Egbuna and her sister Dumebi, both Nigerian-born, run a technology company called Chezie, which provides software to help companies build and run employee resource groups.

He says he had to be resourceful when starting his business.

“I think the funding system for people trying to start companies, particularly black founders, is completely broken,” Egbuna said.

Gocha Hawkins poses in front of his restaurant, Gocha’s Tapas Bar, in southwest Atlanta. Despite already being a successful black business owner, Hawkins says he was forced to take out risky, high-interest loans to open his restaurant. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Gocha Hawkins loves two things: food and community.

A Detroit native, Hawkins said he had a special relationship with food growing up, and when he opened Gocha’s Tapas Bar in southwest Atlanta, banks didn’t back him.

“I never thought I’d be in a position to take out a high-interest loan, because the interest rates would be prohibitively high if I did that,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins has done hair for celebrities for decades and owned her own salon, but like many other Black and brown business owners, she says she had no choice but to take on risky loans.

“I was busy from day one and managed to pay off the loan within six months. I’m never doing that again,” Hawkins said.

Many other Black and brown business owners haven’t been so lucky.

Though there has been a surge in Black business owners since the pandemic subsided, Black people in Atlanta continue to face barriers, including redlining policies and predatory lending practices that have prevented generations of Black families from building wealth or trusting banks, according to the 2024 “Changing the Odds” report.

Toby Egbuna is a Nigerian-born business owner in Atlanta who says there are too many barriers for aspiring black entrepreneurs to secure adequate funding and start successful businesses. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

A recent survey of young people in Atlanta found strong interest in starting their own businesses, especially among black young people.

Dana Weeks is CEO of MedTrans Go, a company that transports people to medical appointments.

“There are new methods and new opportunities that our world needs to know about and we need to think about and listen to everyone,” Weeks said.

She says nurturing the next generation of Black and brown innovators should be a critical investment for Atlanta to thrive.

“I think we’re still underfunded and we’re still figuring out how to present and support a system that in some ways wasn’t necessarily built with people like me,” Weeks said.

Clarification note: A previous version of this article described Chezie as a platform that supports job seekers from underrepresented communities. Chezie is software that helps companies build and run employee resource groups.

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