The Jackson Ward Collective is equipping Black-owned small businesses with the tools for success

The commonalities between Virginia-natives Kristen Gardner Beal and Lance Lemon helped form their bond as startup co-founders. Both graduates of the University of Virginia, the friends lived in the same New York City neighborhood and, perhaps most importantly, share a passion for wine.

That fondness for Cabernets and Chardonnays is what inspired their business venture — RichWine, a boutique online retailer that produces and ships wines across Virginia and Washington, D.C. that harness natural, organic and biodynamic farming practices.

Beal and Lemon have turned their sparkling dreams into a bubbly reality through the help of the Jackson Ward Collective — an organization based out of Richmond, Virginia, that connects Black entrepreneurs with partners who can provide professional support, education and access to resources.

That support has been a key resource for Beal and Lemon as they strive to create a consistent brand.

“We like that it’s our two minds together making the decisions centered on staying true to our brand in tandem with guidance from a handful of advisors in the Jackson Ward Collective,” said Beal. “We’ve met a lot of great people through that organization that have provided us with business mentorship, coaching and accountability goals. The Jackson Ward Collective leadership team is invested in our growth.”

The Collective’s name was chosen to pay homage to its roots in Richmond, specifically the Jackson Ward neighborhood, which was part of Black Wall Street, a thriving community at the turn of the 20th century that was then one of the most prosperous Black communities in the U.S.

When startups join, the Jackson Ward Collective offers a complete assessment of the company.

“We look at where they’re at, where they want to be and what services are needed so that the Jackson Ward Collective can connect the dots,” says Melody Short, one of the organization’s three founders.  “We’re deeply committed to the Black small business ecosystem, assisting businesses by recommending CPAs, attorneys, financial institutions, organizational structures and marketing pros. We’re here to advocate on behalf of our businesses.”

Monthly forums such as “Ask an Expert” allow members to meet Black-owned service providers, which according to Short helps “keeps the Black bucks circulating in our community.” The initial membership offering in 2020 filled up very quickly, but the Jackson Ward Collective has recently reopened membership to allow more small businesses to join. And the demand for these resources is high — a December 2020 survey from Capital One Business found that 48% of Virginia’s small businesses report that their financial position is worse than before the pandemic.

“To have over 160 businesses join right away spoke volumes about the need as well as that people are struggling to access resources,” says Rasheeda Creighton, another cofounder of the Jackson Ward Collective. “Being black is a different type of landscape.”

The Jackson Ward Collective is one of the local Richmond organizations Capital One is partnering with as part of the Capital One Impact Initiative, which is aimed at closing the gaps in equity and opportunity. The $200 million, five-year national commitment aims to support growth in underserved communities as well as advance socioeconomic mobility.

“Small businesses are a vital part of a strong local economy, and there’s nothing better than being known as a region where small businesses thrive. But more importantly, when they start and succeed here, the ripple effects strengthen our communities in ways well beyond business,” said Mike Wassmer, President of Card and Central Virginia Market President at Capital One. “We are proud to partner with organizations like The Jackson Ward Collective, that are creating meaningful connections for Black entrepreneurs and sustainable growth opportunities for Black-owned businesses.”

Short says that support to the Jackson Ward Collective has been instrumental.

“Capital One has been boots on the ground, walking the walk when it comes to community-based initiatives,” Short says. “We’re extremely grateful for their partnership because it’s allowing us to set up our infrastructure and online platform.”

For additional support of the small business community, Capital One partnered with a coalition of brands and nonprofit organizations to launch Small Unites, a national advocacy program that is providing ongoing support for small businesses in Richmond and across America. As part of Small Unites, anyone can donate to verified fundraisers for Richmond’s small businesses, as well as the Small Business Relief Fund.