Women-run org loans $6K to Black-owned businesses
An organization committed to supporting Knoxville’s Black owned businesses has issued its first round of microloans.
J3 Entertainment, Meik Meals and Hairston’s Naturals each received a $2,000 interest-free loan from The Women Foundation this month.
“I was overjoyed. I’m still kind of overwhelmed,” said Chris Neal, owner of J3 Entertainment. “As time has gone on, I’m finding out these big businesses were getting the government loans, the government grants, things like that. A lot of the small businesses didn’t qualify for whatever reason. So the fact that it was a local organization that was reaching out to help local small businesses ... it was a blessing.”
Neal founded his business about five years ago and focuses primarily on DJ services for weddings. The COVID shutdowns significantly impacted his business and he turned to delivering food to generate income. He plans to use the microloans to catch up on monthly business overhead.
The Women LLC of Knoxville and The Women Foundation launched in spring 2019 and are led by Kanika White, Dasha Lundy, Tanika Harper, Deidra Harper and Angela Dennis, five Black women entrepreneurs and community leaders who wanted to help build wealth in Black communities through resources and access to capital.
White is executive director of Knoxville Equity Partners and a real estate agent; Lundy is the District 1 Knox County Commissioner; Tanika Harper is the founder of the Shora Foundation and is raising funds to open an entrepreneurial and coworking space in East Knoxville; Deidra Harper is the co-owner of Elite Facility Maintenance and chief office manager of B&B Lawn Services; and Dennis is a reporter covering social justice issues at Knox News and the co-host of podcast Black in Appalachia.
“We wanted to make sure ... that there would be a return on that investment, not in terms of interest, but in terms of expanding that business for the business owner and the community really placing value on these businesses that we’re funding,” White told Knox News.
The funds are the result of donations from the community; the group is seeking to build a coalition of 20,000 donors to support future microloans.
Meik Meals, founded by Femeika Elliot, is a meal preparation business. Hairston’s Naturals, founded by Tonya Hairston, makes 100% organic hair and skin products.
“Beyond being able to issue these checks to business that need them, it felt really good to know that the community, who donated these funds to The Women for this purpose, can have confidence in what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and trust us to use these funds for the benefit of the entire community,” White said. The 18-month, interest-free microloans require monthly payments, but the loan does not carry any pre-payment penalties.
The Women worked with a community panel to help narrow down the list of applicants. That panel interviewed each applicant and their referrals. The partners of The Women made the final selection.
Each of the three businesses, White said, have stellar community reputations and are centered on fulfilling a need in the community.
“They’ve expressed how much this will help them, just to carry them through this period of COVID and not getting the type of business generation that they’re used to,” White said. “This will hopefully keep them afloat until things pick up in the economy.”
Funding applications for the next round of microloans will open in the spring.
Business reporter Brenna McDermott can be reached at brenna.mcdermott@ knoxnews.com. Follow along with her work on Twitter @_BrennaMcD.
“We wanted to make sure ... that there would be a return on that investment, not in terms of interest, but in terms of expanding that business for the business owner and the community really placing value on these businesses that we’re funding.” Kanika White