Director, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
This past year has been one of the most demanding and introspective periods
for the Kauffman Foundation's minority entrepreneurship team. A year ago, we had
just begun to implement the five pilot Urban Entrepreneur Partnership (UEP)
minority business development centers—an emerging national model that operates
in Kansas City, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Jacksonville, Florida. The
UEP program uses training and coaching models to provide entrepreneurial
education to minority entrepreneurs as they work to grow successful and
sustainable businesses. The program also provides an umbrella of entrepreneurial
education for smaller and start-up minority businesses that may not be
positioned to grow into large ventures.
Just as we were working to make these five centers operate most effectively,
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast region, causing
unprecedented damage to property, people, and spirit. America watched the horror
unfold on television and immediately the philanthropic community was called to
action. The Kauffman Foundation, and the UEP program, were no exception to this
Because of the UEP's comprehensive and results-oriented design—coupled with
support from the three major economic sectors (corporate, government, and
nonprofits)—this program became the perfect "go to" vehicle to address the Gulf
Coast woes. However, the wrath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita dictated that the
UEP respond in a way that addresses the extraordinary needs of the businesses
affected in this region—and that meant going beyond the program model that was
designed for these other five cities.
The Foundation's Response
"An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity."
Not long after the disaster, Kauffman's Board of Trustees voted to allocate
$1 million to the Katrina effort, and the UEP program began to receive numerous
requests to lend support to the effort. Within a couple of weeks after Hurricane
Katrina hit, the Foundation's minority entrepreneurship team began site visits
to the Gulf Coast region to assess the situation and to form a strategy of how
our organization could most effectively offer support. On these visits, we saw
destruction beyond imagination.
As we sorted through this maze of loss of life and property, several things
became crystal clear; the pre-Katrina situation for a large segment of the
population was already dismal. Now, following the hurricane's devastation,
entrepreneurial training in isolation would not work. This program could not
focus solely on entrepreneurial training when people still had no homes or any
So, we began to think about ways this program could provide more
comprehensive assistance in the region. We saw ways that the program could serve
in a coordinating role with other agencies working on the issues of housing and
employment for Gulf Coast residents. It was in this spirit that we formed the
UEP Gulf Coast, Inc. (UEPGC) and pursued its exempt status.
Getting the UEPGC Program Started
After the initial site visits, we determined that UEPGC would establish three
offices in the Gulf Coast region—one located in New Orleans, one in Baton Rouge,
and one along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The mission of the UEPGC is to provide
entrepreneurial education through coaching and other tools to better prepare
indigenous entrepreneurs to participate in the enormous rebuilding efforts to
come in this region. In addition, the program also provides basic
entrepreneurial training to entrepreneurs who are starting new businesses or to
small businesses that may not be positioned to grow into a larger venture.
The UEPGC program recognizes that entrepreneurship is the overarching force
stimulating jobs and housing. Yet, none of this work can happen without paying
attention to the housing and employment needs of the region. The rebuilding
efforts will create a need for new housing for many residents who remained in or
who want to return to the region. People need housing before they are ready to
take on new jobs. Building new housing creates opportunities for minority
entrepreneurs to grow and expand their businesses—especially those in the
building industries. As these businesses grow, so will the number of new
jobs—many of which may require trained and more technologically sophisticated
employees. Therefore, the UEPGC program is working with organizations that
provide these services in an effort to offer a comprehensive service delivery
system for program participants.
Restoration Begins With Businesses
Business is the lifeblood of every community. Along the Gulf Coast, tens of
thousands of businesses were eviscerated and along with them went the jobs and
vitality of the community. Businesses destroyed ranged from the one- or
two-person mom and pop shops to billion dollar global firms that employed tens
of thousands of people. No industry was spared. Franchises, manufacturers,
wholesalers, service firms, financial institutions—all were decimated.
Especially hard hit were approximately 60,000 minority businesses. Their
existence was already fragile and disproportionate, averaging only 12 percent of
the region's businesses even though minorities comprised 36 percent of the
The devastation in the Gulf Coast region pulled back the curtain on the level
of poverty that existed among the region's minority and some majority
populations. Census data indicates that an average of 17 percent of the affected
population lived at or below the poverty level. Similarly, the rates of
successful and scalable minority businesses, particularly African-American and
Hispanic businesses, lag disturbingly behind the rates of other groups in this
A year or more after the hurricanes, much remains to be done. Breathing life
back into Gulf communities must begin with the restoration of business.
Increasing the number, size and viability of all businesses in the region also
increases job opportunities for those living at or below the poverty level.
These businesses most often hire residents that are native to the area.
Moreover, the changing demographics in the next forty years project minorities
will comprise more than 45 percent of the U.S. population. The health of the
future U.S. economy will, in large part, be decided by the health of the economy
of its immigrant and minority population. Hence, a successful immigrant and
minority business population is not a social movement but an economic necessity
and critical to the global competitiveness and survival of the United States.
Linking the Power of Philanthropy and Entrepreneurship
This UEPGC effort goes well beyond charity—simply giving money to assist with
a problem. In a sense, it provides a nexus where the Foundation's
entrepreneurial beliefs and philanthropic mission intersect. Through this
opportunity, Kauffman Foundation's minority entrepreneurship efforts are using a
very direct, applied approach. The potential is that this approach will bring a
“sea change” on the effect of the challenges this situation presents.
Are the efforts in the Gulf filled with potential pitfalls? Do we potentially
expose ourselves to criticism about our efforts? Yes, those things could occur.
However, isn't this part of what entrepreneurial thinking is all about? The
situation in the Gulf Coast region presents a tremendous opportunity to test the
power of philanthropy, working in concert with entrepreneurial ideas and
practices. We can take what we learn here and benefit people and communities in
other cities—hopefully before they are besieged by water, fire, tornadoes, or
other natural disasters.
This essay is an excerpt from the Kauffman Thoughtbook 2007
. To view a table of contents for the 2009 edition, or to order a printed copy of the publication, please visit our 2009 Thoughtbook page