The UW Foster School of Business will partner with Seattle University, Tabor 100 and the City of Seattle on the Liberty Project, a new initiative that aims to accelerate revenue growth and expand opportunity for businesses owned by underrepresented communities in Seattle, particularly Black-owned businesses.
The project is named in honor of Liberty Bank, the first Black-owned bank in the Pacific Northwest to serve individuals and businesses that were excluded from financial services and investment opportunities.
For the initiative, Foster’s Consulting and Business Development Center (CBDC) will collaborate with the Albers Business Foundry (ABF) at Seattle U’s Albers School of Business and Economics, the City of Seattle and Tabor 100, an association committed to economic power, educational excellence and social equity for Black business owners and communities.
“By fostering meaningful collaboration between leading small business institutions and Seattle communities, the Liberty Project will take tangible action to drive economic empowerment and create a vibrant, inclusive business landscape across Seattle. In One Seattle, every community member ought to have the tools pursue their passions and develop a thriving business—reversing longstanding and unjust trends requires making sure underrepresented communities aren’t also underserved in our local business ecosystem,” said Mayor Bruce Harrell. “Rooted in values of equity and inclusivity, the Liberty Project is an innovative approach to better support small local businesses as we strive to build an economy where every neighbor can access opportunities to succeed, grow and flourish in Seattle.”
Experience and innovation
For nearly 30 years, the CBDC, Tabor 100 and the ABF have collaborated and worked independently to support the growth of Black-owned and other underserved businesses in Seattle and the Puget Sound Region. Currently, Black/African Americans account for approximately 7.9% of Seattle’s population but earn revenues at a rate well below their share of the Seattle’s population. Statewide, Black-owned businesses earn less than 1% of total business revenues.
Building on the work of these anchor institutions and deepening their collaboration with the City, the Liberty Project is powered by the CBDC’s M3 model—providing services to Seattle businesses aimed at (1) improving their management capacity and (2) growing access to money through loans and investments, which will lead to (3) increased access to markets thorough corporate and government contracting opportunities and access to new consumers in downtown Seattle and throughout the region.
“We have already proven the M3 model to be successful in growing Black-owned and other underserved businesses in Seattle and across the US,” said Michael Verchot, director of the Consulting and Business Development Center. “The value of the Liberty Project is that, for the first time ever, three anchor institutions are working with the city in a new, coordinated way, to grow Black-owned and other under-served businesses. We are excited to do this work with our long-term partners at Tabor 100 and the Albers School of Business to grow wealth building businesses in this region through the Liberty Project.”
The Liberty Project will offer a wide array of services, including business consulting and strategy services, finance and accounting services (including loan application assistance), marketing services, technology services (such as website development and equipment assessments/upgrades), and contract bid preparation. Limited legal support will be provided through Communities Rise and local minority Bar associations.
The new initiative will annually serve a minimum of 30 Black-owned businesses from the retail, personal services, commercial construction, food and beverage manufacturing, restaurant and power utilities contract industries. These six industries were chosen due to their high concentration of Black-owned businesses and significant market demand for their services.
Additionally, as part of Mayor Harrell’s Downtown Activation Plan, the Liberty Project will partner with the Office of Economic Development’s Seattle Restored program to assist restaurant, personal service, and retail businesses with downtown Seattle site locations.
The Liberty Project will start accepting applications from local businesses later this summer through an online portal managed by Tabor 100. Interested businesses must meet the following criteria:
- Operate in one of the six prioritized industries.
- Have a minimum of three paid employees, including the business owner, and demonstrate prior success in increasing the number of employees.
- Provide financial statements showing profitability in the preceding two years.
- Demonstrate a track record of successful revenue growth in financial statements.
While the project’s initial focus will be on Black-owned businesses that meet the stated criteria, applications from businesses owned by other demographic groups, industries, size, or earned revenue will also be considered. Selected businesses will participate in the program for one year and, upon completion, become part of an alumni network offering ongoing technical assistance and support for continued business and revenue growth.
“Better access to capital and contracting opportunities, and building more capacity to manage growth, are the foundations to peeling back the layers of systemic racism faced by Black-owned businesses. And making progress—moving the needle in the other direction—takes leadership, partnership, and intentionality, all of which are being demonstrated here,” said Rachel Smith, president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “The Liberty Project will help our Black-owned businesses thrive in a more equitable and inclusive regional economy.”
The Foster School’s Consulting and Business Development Center has been growing businesses in underserved communities across Washington and accelerating student careers since its founding in 1995. Through student consulting and executive education programs, the businesses that the center worked with last year grew revenues by an average of 14% in Washington State. Through its national Ascend network, the center supported contract revenue growth of $2.3 billion in 2021-22. More than 95% of students who participate in the center’s programs report improved success in the early years of their careers.