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GK! Market connects minority businesses

Brian Wright O’Connor
GK! Market connects minority businesses
Sarah Fox, whose company So Zen Box is one of the retail firms profiled on GK! Market. COURTESY PHOTO

Launching and running a business is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Sustaining a successful enterprise in the midst of a pandemic is even tougher.

Since the coronavirus hit, some 40% of Black businesses have gone under, victims of a strained economy, plummeting demand for professional and retail services and customers wary of venturing out into the COVID climate.

At the same time, a national racial and social reckoning brought on by protests over the May 25 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police offer has spurred greater interest in doing business with minority-owned enterprises.

Sensing the need to connect customers with companies, regardless of the motivation, social entrepreneur Colette Phillips has launched GK! Market as an outgrowth of her groundbreaking Get Konnected! networking events.

The online site at lists over 1,200 minority and women-owned companies, broken down by ethnic ownership and business categories and ranging from professional services, media and construction to restaurant, retail and hospitality.

While boosting the bottom line of listed enterprises, GK! Market also seeks to retire once and for all the oft-heard complaint by otherwise well-meaning purchasing and contracting executives that “I can’t find anyone” when it comes to doing business with Black-owned firms.

“I intend to erase that slogan from the lexicon of business,” said Phillips after launching GK! Market in late November. “Here they are in one place. And not just in a directory but with links and profiles. This platform could be a savior for small businesses in the city.”

While offering a lifeline to small firms struggling amid the pandemic, the site also serves to connect larger companies to clients at a time many major corporations have committed to diversity in their supplier chain.

The multicultural marketplace linking buyers to sellers was designed by Qwally, an interface firm that emerged from the prestigious MassChallenge Accelerator business competition. The easy-to-use platform is free of charge and connects potential customers to minority-owned, women-owned and LGBTQ-owned businesses around the state.

The site is especially useful for businesses lacking websites and marketing budgets.

“This is a small-business platform created by a women and minority-owned small business to help small businesses at a time of crisis and a time of opportunity,” said Phillips. “Anyone can go in there who wants to support businesses run by people who look like me.”

Part of ecosystem

So Zen Box, founded by mobile spa owner Sarah Fox, is one of the retail firms profiled on GK! Market. The company delivers subscription boxes filled with health and beauty products from Black-owned firms. So Zen Box’s website and social media platforms are all accessible through GK! Market’s online market.

Fox, who grew up on the North Shore in Beverly, Massachusetts, and attended the University of Massachusetts Boston, left a career in academic administration to launch her spa services in 2016, but the COVID crisis shut it down. She launched So Zen Box recently to deliver quarterly, monthly or one-time packages with close to a dozen products, many of them, like crystals, aromatherapy candles and soaps, sourced from local minority-owned firms.

“GK! Market is great because as anyone can go on the site and find me,” she said. “But as a business owner, I can also go on there and find other small businesses to source from. It’s all part of the ecosystem.”

Phillips’ latest social and business innovation, launched with the participation of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Michael Kennealy, includes businesses across the state, and she is eyeing expansion to other regions.

Nationally, of 5.7 million U.S. businesses with at least one employee, 2.2% are Black-owned. Of those 125,000 enterprises, 36% are headed by women, the largest share of any ethnic group.

In Massachusetts, 9% of the state’s 180,000 businesses are Black-owned, 12.4% Latino-owned, 7% Asian-owned and 71% white-owned. A total of close to 90,000 firms are minority-owned.

Phillips’ goal is to make GK! Market the state’s single largest repository of minority and women-owned enterprises.

“Our hope is that the GK! Market will allow those companies to become more accessible,” she said.

GK! Market is coming online as multiple sources of investment capital are being launched to help boost minority businesses. The Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, The Black Massachusetts Coalition Project, City Hall’s Equity Fund and a multi-billion dollar Bank of America fund all seek to increase economic activity in communities of color and narrow the wealth and income gap.

PNC Bank, a Pittsburgh-based retail banking giant with a growing New England presence, has also stepped in to close that gap with significant financial support to GK! Market, which builds on its $372 million supplier diversity program.

“PNC Bank is proud to support Get Konnected! and its launch of GK! Market,” said Saskia Epstein, PNC’s vice president of client and community relations. “As PNC Bank grows its business in the region, we are committed to addressing systemic racism and advancing economic mobility for people of color.”

Windwalker Group, a multimillion dollar cybersecurity, physical security and training firm launched by Haitian immigrant Herby Duverne, is one of the larger firms on GK! Market. Duverne is also listed in the Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Pacesetter program, which has recently been revamped to more effectively link minority-owned firms to major institutional clients.

“GK! Market is an important part of efforts to get companies and state and local governments to support minority businesses to address inequality in Black wealth,” said Duverne. “A lot of companies made statements in the wake of this year’s protests that they’re going to be different and heed the call of the Black Lives Movement. I’m very critical of companies for not doing what they say they intend to, but for right now we have to give them a chance to prove they are really going to do something to combat racial inequities. GK! Market gives them a vehicle to show that commitment.”

black business, business, minority business
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