Jackie Taylor has seen enough entrepreneurial programs to know money isn’t the key to success.
That’s why, when Taylor was selected to be the executive champion of the Ernst & Young New Jersey Entrepreneurs Access Network — a program created to identify, train and elevate Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the state — she made sure everyone knew this was going to be more than just another grant program.
“When we launched this program, the most frequently asked questions were: Will this give me a grant? Will this give me access to capital?” she said. “The short answer is, ‘Yes.’
“But, what is most important is that these businesses commit to the program. EY wants to make sure that we make them businesses that can take advantage of and maximize opportunities. If they’re not ready, there’s no amount of money that can help them grow.”
The philosophy personifies EY: Make sure your client gets your best. Oh, and bring a team to help, too. Taylor and EY have done just that.
The program, which will announce its first cohort next month, has created a coalition of partners of business groups and organizations — including Choose New Jersey, Invest Newark and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, as well as the African American and Statewide Hispanic chambers of commerce of New Jersey.
Taylor explained that these groups and many others are the key to the EAN being more than just another program aimed at underserved communities. This is designed to be a program that is built to last. And, more importantly, built to adjust to the changing times. EY is launching the program in 10 markets across the country.
“This is not a contest,” she said. “It is literally a capacity-building program focused on Black and Latinx founders. The goal is to provide these businesses with the tools, the access the relationships and exposures they need to scale and to grow.
“That, in and of itself, received great response in the geographies where we’re launching the program. But, because this is the inaugural year, we thought it was important to create a continuum here in New Jersey. And, in order to create a continuum, we felt the need to create a coalition.”
The coalition, Taylor said, will help find and attract the type of entrepreneurs and companies that would be best served by the program.
“I reached out to (African American Chamber head) John Harmon and (Statewide Hispanic Chamber head) Carlos Medina and others to say, ‘We’ve got this great capacity-building program, but we want to have an ongoing avenue for communication, a pipeline to entrepreneurs,’” she said. “They’ve obviously got existing relationships that we can tap into.
“We also want to get a pulse check on what entrepreneurs need. We want it to be agile and responsive. Having this coalition allows us to do that.”
EY has long been associated with entrepreneurship. Its well-known Entrepreneur of the Year program started in 1986. Its EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women program has been around for a dozen. But, last year, the firm recognized the lack of access to funds and connections was hindering many Black and Latinx businesses from achieving their full potential. The EAN program was created to help change that.
Taylor said EY plans to select up to 15 entrepreneurs for its first New Jersey cohort. The companies chosen will benefit from hundreds of hours of free advisory time through both in-person meetings (obviously, depending on the COVID situation) and virtual classes, which will allow the attendance flexibility startup companies will need, she said.
The only requirement, Taylor emphasized, is a commitment by the company or entrepreneur to the program. The program won’t work without it.
The type of company or entrepreneur? That can and should vary, Taylor said.
“I think it’s so important to note the dichotomy and the types of businesses that could benefit from this program,” she said. “So, you’ve got your restaurateurs with the great menu items that could potentially scale, or a need to create a distributorship or expand locations. We want them to apply, because they’ll get value.
“By the same token, this program also is valuable to the architectural firm or the construction organization that’s looking to grow — one that may be in a different maturity stage in their growth. One of the things that’s important is getting the word out that, if you have a scalable business, and a founder with a vision, you should apply. Don’t count yourself out.”
And, if you missed the first application process, which ended in mid-October, don’t fret. There will be an on-demand part of the program, too. Entrepreneurs and organizations can apply to get access to curated content online throughout the year, Taylor said.
The EAN program is about bringing opportunity to a community of entrepreneurs that too often were left out in the past. The goal of that program, Taylor said, is to get them ready to take advantage of capital opportunities and supplier relationships and everything else EY can expose them to.
All of this brings it back to the original thought: It’s not about money, but about preparing entrepreneurs to be in a position to make money.
“Our goal is getting them ready so they can take advantage of opportunities,” she said.
If that happens, the state will win, Taylor said.
“EAN is about creating an environment where investing in New Jersey small businesses can be done with confidence,” she said.
Harmon, for one, thinks it’s a long overdue step in the right direction.
“This program is a gift from heaven,” he said. “The strategy is focused, and the intent is purposeful. It will make a difference in contributing to the success of each business enterprise.”
It will be something that money can’t buy.