Ahmir Young, founder of Egrassroots, has turned his passion to keep Black dollars within the Black community into a viable business.
An online business directory, Egrassroots Business helps Black consumers connect with Black-owned businesses near them. The company also has a subsidiary group called Black Owned Business.
“It wasn’t supposed to be a business initially,” said Young, a resident of Sharon Hill, Pa. “I just wanted a group of us to come together to educate and support one another. But when the group started blossoming to thousands of members, it only made sense to turn it into a brand.”
Now that group has turned into a website featuring 500 businesses, who pay a nominal fee per month to advertise their goods and services. The site has about 33,000 members, according to Young.
Young said Egrassroots Business also harnesses the power of social media to promote its members.
“When that many people share your business on social media, there is always the potential for that share to go viral,” Young said. “We have a list of Black-owned farmers that has been shared almost 16,000 times.”
Young said this is the first large-scale business venture he has started. Like many Black people, he was told by his parents to go work for someone else.
“My family always encouraged me to ‘get a job,’ ” said Young, who worked in home health care. “It was never instilled in me to start my own business. However, I am putting that in both my daughter and nephew’s heads.”
Young said Black consumers need to do a better job of supporting Black-owned businesses, because they can’t count on others to do it.
“Whites support whites, Jewish support Jewish, Chinese support Chinese, etc.,” Young said. “Black people support everyone but themselves. And that is what I am trying to change. I think that our entire race needs to be reconditioned; reconditioned and educated on why it is critical to support one another. We either leave our community to spend our dollars or support the people in our community who don’t look like us.”
Although Egrassroots Business started in 2014, it has notched several successes.
The company has already partnered with United Bank of Philadelphia, a Black-owned financial institution, for a seminar on the significance of generating Black wealth; with Atlanta Black Star to promote the importance of business ownership; and it has raised money for Flint, Michigan.
“We raised almost $5,000 for the Flint crisis,” Young said. “I was really proud to be able to do something like that. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love being able to help people. And if not for this group, it would not have been possible, at least not to that level.”
Several users of the Egrassroots Business website have also experienced personal success stories, such as David Anderson of Inner Brand.
“Our group helped propel his book ‘Pitch, Close, Upsell, Repeat’ to a number-one bestseller on Amazon,” Young said. “He is also a business coach for lots of members in the group through his company.”
“Ahmir, Egrassroots and Black Owned Business have been instrumental in growing my business. I coach some of the biggest names in marketing, entertainment and finance, but the power that is found in over 32,000 Black business owners is staggering,” Anderson said.
As the founder of a growing business, Young has some valuable lessons for other budding Black entrepreneurs. He said some of the biggest challenges Black entrepreneurs may face is from family and friends, who often question and interrogate them when they learn they want to start their own business venture. They really ought to offer support instead of criticism, he said.
“They are your friends and family, so you kind of already have their ear,” Young said. “So sitting them down, or maybe just bringing up in random conversation how important it is to support Black-owned businesses.”
Young said two of the most important lessons he has learned are planning and building relationships.
“The first thing you need to do is map out a business plan, and discover your target audience,” Young said. “Patience is definitely needed, you will not be successful overnight. There will be ups and downs. But push through it, put the work in and make it happen.”
Setting up a support network of advisers and mentors is also critical, he added.
“Being able to call someone for something that you may not know is priceless,” Young said. “Building relationships can also land you a tremendous amount of referrals. And referrals can do wonders for not only your business, but the way people view you as well.”
Young says future goals for the website are to continue to direct more revenue toward Black-owned businesses. In that regard he has launched an app Egrassrootsbusiness now available on both Google Play and iTunes.