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W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports StartUP FIU Food program to help entrepreneurs of color digitally transform their businesses
Participants of the StartUP FIU Food entrepreneurship accelerator program (Photo taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic)

W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports StartUP FIU Food program to help entrepreneurs of color digitally transform their businesses

March 4, 2021 at 9:20am

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently granted FIU $400,000 to launch the StartUP FIU Food Digital Transformation Program.

Launched in 2017 as a collaboration between StartUP FIU and the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, StartUP FIU Food helps local food entrepreneurs strengthen and grow their businesses.

The StartUP FIU Food Digital Transformation Program is designed for low-moderate income entrepreneurs in the food industry, especially entrepreneurs of color, who are disproportionately affected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, businesses owned by people of color were twice as likely to shut down permanently as those of their white counterparts.

The Digital Transformation Program is aimed at helping companies recover and be more resilient for the future as consumer habits continue to gravitate toward online platforms.

A 2018 study by Salesforce and Publicis Sapient found that 87 percent of customers research their retail purchases online before buying, up from 71 percent the previous year. Consumers are also making more online purchases with their smartphones. But in 2019, only 64 percent of small businesses and 15 percent of non-employer firms (those with at least $1,000 in revenue and no employees) had some type of digital footprint, according to the 2019 Small Business Credit Survey.  

Delivered as online workshops, the program will teach participants how to leverage social media and e-commerce platforms; build a functional website and prepare for processing and distribution; and other financial literacy skills such as tracking costs and profitability.

“Prior to the pandemic, companies without a digital presence were not only missing out on skyrocketing e-commerce revenues but also risked losing existing customers whose habits were gravitating towards new tech platforms. COVID-19 only accelerated this problem, catastrophically affecting minority small businesses who didn’t have the digital presence to adapt to a fully remote world,” said Emily Gresham, assistant vice president for research and economic development and a co-founder of StartUP FIU.

For example, StartUP FIU Food-participating businesses that did not have digital assets lost 50-70 percent of their revenue in the first six weeks of the shutdown, while those with digital sales capabilities saw only 20-35 percent declines.

“StartUP FIU Food’s ability to expand access to capital for Black, Hispanic and Tribal entrepreneurs, and other entrepreneurs of color –all of whom are disproportionately impacted by the current pandemic—gives families and children an opportunity to thrive,” said Jeanne Wardford, program officer with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “StartUP FIU Food’s work is essential to improving stability and growth for businesses of color and increasing economic opportunity for all.”

The StartUP FIU Food Digital Transformation Program will launch this year with a goal to assist at least 1,000 food entrepreneurs in its first two years and become a national model.

“We are grateful for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s support in our mission to help small businesses flourish,” Gresham said.