Let’s talk about what a $66.00 box of Collards can teach us about investing in entrepreneurs of color...
A few weeks ago the internet went bat shit crazy as the result of Neiman Marcus placing frozen pre-cooked collard greens for sale delivered directly to your home for an additional $15.00 for a grand total of $81.00.
Many expressed their outrage of Neiman Marcus especially through Twitter with the hashtag #GentrifiedGreens. With all the hoopla, I started to wonder outside of the sticker shock was this outrage warranted? Maybe more importantly, was the source of the rage directed at the right place?
Let’s dig a little deeper...
Collards—an African American dietary staple enjoyed throughout United States, most notably the American South, is a common crop cultivated throughout southern states where one can easily purchase a bunch for less than $5.00 in almost any grocery store. So to say the least, a price tag of $66.00 is peculiar.
Neiman Marcus Website-A data driven e-commerce platform built to evaluate and collapse critical consumer information has offered Neiman Marcus a window of opportunity. They know their customer base and have clearly tapped into a huge void, their high-end customers desire certain food items delivered to them directly without having to cook or prep it themselves.
Traditionally, black communities are more homogenous in opening food based businesses and other startups, in addition to being located in clusters, which contributes to challenges with diversity in building vertically integrated communities who can mirror the capabilities of a Neiman Marcus.
Those that champion inclusive innovation are desperately trying to figure out how they can attract resources and benefit from the innovation economy.
Too many targeted urban areas are innovation deserts and still don’t see a connection between technology, innovation and economic development.
Nationally, coding programs and startup activity are still scarce in urban neighborhoods.
Similarly, the small number of successful black startup founders makes it hard to showcase how investing in startup founders of color and their ideas yield positive economic outcomes.
Here are 6 very simple examples of the huge opportunities cost that communities are incurring when they are not investing in inclusive innovation, let’s just say the $66 box of Collard Greens is the tip of the iceberg.
State and Local government play an important role, where community redevelopment agencies usually support and fund, brick and mortar/capital improvement projects, investing in startups could prove to be more impactful and allow those funds to assist a larger number of small businesses to scale. Startups by definition is a rapidly repeatable, scalable and fundable business model which is different from a traditional small business. Startups are fluid and collaborative, and thrive in shared work environments whether it is co-working spaces or shared commercial kitchens and local government making sure these places exist in urban cores can really spur entrepreneurial activity.
Innovation Fund- Setting up funds that allow minority entrepreneurs to access funding to test their ideas, lowers the barriers to entry of innovation. Check out Invest Detroit, Harret’s Angels Cross Culture Ventures, and Impact America Fund all funds that inclusively invest in High Growth companies led by underrepresented minority startup founders.
Programmers in Residence/Entrepreneurs in Residence The brunt of the attention to solve diversity and inclusion problems are often directed at the big tech companies, but there is a lot that local government and organizations can do. Moving Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRA’s) towards funding innovative programming over capital improvements can help residents quickly learn and pivot their ideas to those that are scaleable.
Examples of how funds can be redirected include- Bringing on an Entrepreneur in Residence to work closely with small businesses to help them uncover new and innovative approaches to their business model or hiring a Developer in Residence to provide pro-bono tech support to help small businesses become more tech enabled so that they can sell pass their neighborhoods and reach a global market with their food concept.
Clearly, Neiman Marcus does not make collard greens or any of the food items they sell during the holidays which ranges from whole Thanksgiving dinners to $92 Tamalles and $235 Brisket dinners that feeds 10. A quick glance of the site tells you their buyers are sourcing vendors from all over the world.
Food focused Accelerators and Incubators can help food companies scale so they are better aware of vendorization opportunities and prepared to bid on procurement contracts. (Click Here for a list of 15 Food Accelerators & Corporate Incubators from Food Tech Connect) Your local mom and pop restaurant that makes Collards so good that you want to slap your mother, well they could have been the contract manufacture or private label company supplying to Neiman Marcus.
Jobs, on Jobs, on Jobs-Imagine the number of jobs and opportunities that can be created when a neighborhood restaurant scales and is supplying to a leading luxury retail giant or pivots their idea into something like Plated or Blue Apron who according to Forbes delivers over 5 million meals a month and employees 2400 people. Can we say HELLO middle class jobs!
Countless studies show an increase in employment of people of color through first increasing the number of companies started by people of color is the formula for impactful change because they are more likely to hire applicants from diverse backgrounds. Startups with the right support provide a clear solution to solving a number of challenges facing targeted urban areas.
Having innovation hubs in our communities and re-directing resources to our communities so that ideas are refined, innovative solutions are celebrated, revamped and accelerated to reach an ever changing market, where concepts like design thinking, agile and lean startup allows neighborhood soul food restaurant to not have to suffer in the kitchen, but to “Uberize" their ideas and reach millions. If nothing else Neiman Marcus has clearly shown us there is a demand for frozen Soul Food delivered directly to your home. When black entrepreneurs are connected to the right tech tools they can completely reshape lifestyles by merging culture and technology while selling to the global market.