Updated: Sep 20, 2022
By:Danilo J. Vargas
Despite the challenges associated with starting and growing a small business, and the high failure rate of new ventures, there’s no denying that Miami-Dade is home to one of the most vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems in the country, and its people have historically been among the most entrepreneurial in the world.
But then came the COVID-19 pandemic with its devastating impact on small businesses, especially those owned by people of color and women. Whereas from February to April of 2020, COVID wiped out 3.3 million businesses across all industries, or 22% of active businesses in the country—the largest drop ever recorded—business activity by African-American businesses declined by 41%, Latinx by 32%, Asian-American by 26%, and women by 25%. These losses continued to compound in May and June of that year and though there has been a marked recovery since the grim early days of the pandemic, the situation remains extremely challenging for many small business owners throughout the County.
Very early in Mayor Levine Cava’s administration, she launched Thrive305 - the largest public engagement initiative in Miami-Dade County government’s history. The guiding principle behind Thrive305 is simple: government works best when it’s driven, informed and led by the people it represents.
And when it came to supporting our small businesses, residents elevated this priority showing overwhelming support for our small businesses. In fact, the top response to the question, “What could your County government do to help small businesses succeed economically?” was to “Support small and minority-owned businesses through loans and business mentorship/accelerator programs.” This answer was the top choice across nearly all age, income, and racial/ethnic groups.
In response, the Mayor announced the Strive305 Small Business initiative, a strategic framework designed to provide more resources for small business owners by creating an environment where they can access technical assistance, collaborate, and learn. In fact: The Strive305 framework seeks to fill 5 key gaps in the small business ecosystem:
The Access to Capital Gap
Many small businesses struggle to access the grants and other financial aid that they need to implement effective growth strategies. Miami-Dade is investing in new web-based technology developed by the Urban Impact Lab to help small business owners quickly find and apply for grants, loans and other types of financial resources—from a single web page that’s available in English, Spanish and Creole. Small business owners can access this platform here.
The Information Gap
As one of the most entrepreneurial places in the world, it should not be surprising that Miami-Dade county’s small business ecosystem is rich, robust and diverse. Unfortunately, there has never been a central clearing house, or centralized information resource to make it easy for small business owners to access the rich array of assistance available from the county’s small business support organizations.
That is the key challenge that led to the partnership with The Miami Foundation to create, LaborMiami.org. Launched in 2021, this web platform is an easy-to-use tool for entrepreneurs, small business owners, employers, students, and job-seekers alike. It is a visually stunning, dynamic and comprehensive map of all ecosystem resources available to our residents. LaborMiami is a great example of the kinds of informational tools we will be rolling out throughout all of 2022 as we seek to ensure that every small business owner has the information they need to thrive, at their fingertips.
The Skills Gap
We know that the path to creating a profitable small business is a difficult one. The hard truth is that the vast majority of small businesses, by some measurements as many as 70 to 80% of them, will not make it to their 10th anniversary. This is why many entrepreneurs don’t find the formula to success until their 3rd, 4th, or even 5th attempt. Building a successful small business requires many skills and those skills are ultimately acquired through trial and error; through the process of learning from one’s failures over time.
While there is no way to make owning a small business any easier from a market forces standpoint, it is possible to help accelerate a small business owner’s learning and skills acquisition process. We can be more diligent in helping them identify gaps in skills, blindspots and help them acquire the “mental models” they need to be successful; not just by teaching them new ideas and concepts but by creating mentorship and coaching opportunities to help them practice applying their new knowledge, resulting in faster skill acquisition (and behavioral change).
This is the reason that we are creating the Strive305 Virtual Incubator— to offer every small business in the County a core curriculum of online courses that they can access for FREE, from anywhere, including their mobile devices. We can teach and assist our small business owners to strive, better.
The Workspace Gap
Finding affordable office, retail, and co-working spaces in Miami-Dade is a constant struggle for entrepreneurs and small business owners. To address this need, Miami-Dade County will leverage existing County infrastructure, build affordable new workspaces and collaborate with nonprofit partners to bolster the spaces they already operate. Under the Mayor’s leadership, the County has already opened the two-story, 14,000 square foot, Larcenia J. Bullard Plaza in Richmond heights, which provides affordable office, retail, and food retail space to local entrepreneurs, and includes the Richmond Heights Small Business Development Hub and incubator, managed by our partner, the Neighbors and Neighbors Association (NANA).
Plans are also underway to build a second, state-of-the-art entrepreneurship center to be managed by the Haitian American Chamber of Commerce of Florida. The Mayor’s office is also working with the County’s libraries to build capacity to serve the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs through their remarkable YOUmake and YOUmedia centers, available at the County’s regional libraries.
The Community Gap
In addition to the hard work required to start and sustain a small business, It can feel really lonely to be an entrepreneur. It can be all too easy to become discouraged, to feel riddled with self-doubt and succumb to the “me against the world” mentality. By building a sense of belonging to a larger community of other “strivers”, however, entrepreneurs will understand that their struggles are not unique. Their peers are going through the exact same thing because its part of the journey. Once we understand that the struggles are not personal, we can work together, in community, to do the work more productively.
Building community is all about creating a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves and joining forces to keep the community thriving. This is all about convening the community through frequent in-person events in every part of the County, and continuing the conversation online through virtual communities and tools like Zoom, and the County’s social media channels. A great example of this is The Strive305 Morning Huddle. A weekly Zoom conversation with small business owners from all over the County. Leaders and small business owners gather every Friday at 10 am to connect with each other and learn about all the great resources available to striving entrepreneurs.
THRIVING POST PANDEMIC
Though learning to live with COVID is becoming our new normal, it is clear that we can all do more to support our small business owners who are the backbone of our economy and the heart of our community. Under the Mayor’s leadership, and through the creation of an array of tools like LaborMiami, we are taking concrete, definitive steps to ensure that every small business owner in the county is more resilient and better able to face new challenges, and pivot towards the opportunities of the post pandemic economy. Based on clear feedback from County residents and an innovative approach, the mayor’s Strive305 seeks to make it easier than ever to start and grow a small business in Miami-Dade County. And LaborMiami is a key part of this effort.