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Harlem Business Alliance Launches Incubator for Black Women Entrepreneurs

By Dartunorro Clark | August 11, 2016 6:45pm
 The Lillian Project, launched by the Harlem Business Alliance, aims to help black women in the world of small business. 
The Lillian Project, launched by the Harlem Business Alliance, aims to help black women in the world of small business. 
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DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

HARLEM — A new program is hoping to boost the number of African-American women business owners in Harlem.

The Harlem Business Alliance recently launched the Lillian Project, which aims to give native-born African American women, who fall within the low-to middle-income bracket, a shot at opening their dream business.

Gina Ramcharan, the director of the project, said the organization worked with the Michigan-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which provided $300,000 to create an incubator for prospective minority entrepreneurs.

She said the proposal was out of the box for the foundation, because it generally works with child welfare issues.

“Their focus is on children and the welfare of children in this country,” Ramcharan said. “But one of the ways to help children out of poverty is to help their parents out of poverty.” 

The proposal was molded to pinpoint the obstacles underprivileged black woman entrepreneurs face and remove them.

“This is about a community of black women charged to put the lives of other black women on a trajectory for success—women who may not have had the opportunity without this program,” she added.

That creed is also seeded in the story of the project’s namesake: Lillian Harris Dean.

Dean, a domestic worker, left the American South and migrated to Harlem in 1901, according to the project’s website.

During her first week in the neighborhood, she used $5 from her work earnings and created a soul food stand, which she spun into a lucrative business. It earned her the nickname “Pigfoot Mary," along with thousands of dollars.

The program aims to turn about 100 women into entrepreneurial mavens through July 2018.

A total of 25 participants will be selected for the first round this fall.

“This is not a social venture, it is not a charity,” Ramcharan said. “The end result for the participant will be a formal business plan and help with implementation.”

Some budding entrepreneurs only focus on creating a brick-and-mortar business, she added, so the program looks to expand participant's outlooks on wholesale and e-commerce.

“One of the things I’d like to see come out of this program is to eliminate the thinking small,” Ramcharan said.

Applications for the program are currently open and due Aug. 23.

Applicants are also encouraged to attend one orientation on either Aug. 18 or Aug. 22 and participate in a business pitch night on Aug. 25.

The first 25 will be notified by Aug. 31 and attend sessions on Monday evenings, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., from Sept. 19 to Dec. 5.

“I want women who are serious about creating a business and future for themselves,” Ramcharan said.

“It’s not going to be based on the type of business — because I believe any dream can come true — it’s going to be based on passion.”