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Uplifting New Orleans’ Small Businesses, One Cohort at a Time

Charlotte Zera
August 24, 2022

More than 500,000 new small businesses are founded every month in the United States.1 Within five years, 45 percent of those businesses fail2. Add in systemic inequities and high barriers to entrepreneurship entry, and segments such as Black female entrepreneurs have a three percent success rate of running a mature business3. Alexander Bigbie is on a mission to change that statistic through his nonprofit, Flyte, an organization dedicated to improving access to financial and professional business resources for underserved communities.

 

Female Business Owner

Convergence of Experience and Passion

Even while working in the corporate finance world in London, Bigbie always had a passion for mentorship and teaching financial literacy skills. After gaining experience doing so at local schools and learning about the banking industry through his career, he embarked on the tumultuous trajectory of leaving the banking world in England to consult for numerous nonprofits in New Orleans.

While consulting for a New Orleans accelerator and working directly with small business owners, Bigbie noticed the unique circumstances plaguing not only prospective business owners in the area, but New Orleanians as a whole. Astounded by the deeply entrenched, seemingly insurmountable barriers, primarily against minorities, Bigbie felt a drive to immerse himself in helping locals overcome these obstacles. “Maybe I should try and do something about it instead of being upset about it,” Bigbie realized after reflecting that his previous experience and banking knowledge positioned him to help solve this problem. “You don’t get the opportunity to do that very often.” This revelation led to the birth of Flyte in 2017, and the organization has since helped thousands gain the skills they need to overcome systematic financial inequities.

 

Empowering Entrepreneurs

One of Flyte’s pillar programs—the Entrepreneur Empowerment Program—aims to mentor and consult early-stage small businesses whose founders experience higher barriers to entry to the entrepreneurship world. Since inception, over 80% of Flyte’s cohort participants have been Black female entrepreneurs.

As most accelerators offer three or six-month programs, Flyte’s approach to small business development looks a little different. Bigbie noticed that members from previous cohorts would frequently reach out to him after their program ended in search of more help, which led him to realize that mentorship for a mere few months was often not enough. Now the heart of Flyte, this program accepts fifty small business owners to be part of a twelve-month cohort. Even at the end of the twelve months, Flyte’s and support doesn’t end.—Bigbie’s door is open as long as the cohort members would like. “One of my favorite parts of this job is watching the businesses grow and being with them through their successes and feeling like we’re a part of it. It’s very rewarding.”

 

Partners for Good

With the aim of being holistic and heavily involved, cohort members participate in 16 hours of virtual financial literacy classes and one-on-one virtual mentorship sessions in partnership with local banks. They also receive stipends, free business consultancy, and participate in networking events. If members don’t know how to read a financial statement, volunteer-led training sessions will address that topic. If members are having trouble getting a loan approved, Flyte will investigate and contact lenders to help determine the root cause of the issue. Flyte also helps business owners prepare to take on their first business loans. They access them through extensive partnerships with local banks, CDFIs and credit unions and also cover a portion of the interest cost to make them more affordable.

Flyte GrantFlyte received a 2020 Hancock Whitney Opportunity Grant.

It is clear that partnerships help Flyte continue serving the local community. Flyte works with partners across Greater New Orleans to secure access to funding, best-in-class tools, resources and curriculum. Hancock Whitney is proud to be among Flyte’s strategic community partners. “By supporting these nonprofits through consultation, expertise and funding to help operations, we are supporting small businesses in the community,” said Hancock Whitney Vice-President of Community and Economic Affairs Ashley Aubrey Harrison.      

With continued community support, Flyte has no plans to slow down. In 2023, they plan on expanding their cohort from 50 to at least 100 businesses as well as serving business owners beyond the Metro New Orleans area.    

 

1. "65 Stats to Know About Entrepreneurship in 2022," hubspot.com, July 4, 2022 https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/entrepreurship-stats

2.  "Top 6 Reasons New Businesses Fail" investopedia.com, January 10, 2022 https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/1010/top-6-reasons-new-businesses-fail.aspx

3. "Black Women Are More Likely to Start a Business than White Men," hbr.org, May 11, 2021 https://hbr.org/2021/05/black-women-are-more-likely-to-start-a-business-than-white-men