A New Study Breaks Down Just How Badly COVID-19 Hit Minority-Owned Businesses

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

A New Study Breaks Down Just How Badly COVID-19 Hit Minority-Owned Businesses
Photo by chris panas on Unsplash

A new study quantifying the impact of COVID-19 on American small businesses confirms what many have suspected. Black small business owners have been ravaged by the pandemic. They were nearly twice as likely to have shut down in the last several months compared to the national average. Latinx, immigrant and female owners have also fared poorly.


The research, published this week in a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, examines data from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to compare small business ownership between February and April of this year, with the onset of the pandemic falling squarely in the middle of that timeframe. In doing so, Robert Fairlie, economics professor at U.C. Santa Cruz and the paper's author, reveals how the virus' effects have damaged small businesses in different communities.

Data from the National Bureau of Economic Research

In the time period studied, the number of people who said the majority of their working week was devoted to their own business fell by 22%. Among black business owners, however, the decline was 41%. That number was 36% among immigrants; 32% among Latinx; and 26% among women.

The analysis does not break the data down by geography, but local experts see a direct connection to what's happened in the L.A. region.

Downtown L.A.-based Camino Financial, a financial services provider, recently published its own study on the current health of Latinx-owned businesses. It examined loan repayment data through May of this year, and found that Latinx businesses in California have had a 40% higher incidence of nonpayment compared to peer companies in Texas and Florida – two of the three other states besides California with the highest proportion of Latinx-owned businesses. The only other state seeing similar nonpayment rates is New York.

"There is a very strong correlation between the impact of COVID on businesses and the overall impact on the area itself," Camino Chief Executive Officer Sean Salas says. What's happened throughout the country is likely to be happening in L.A., he says. Perhaps more intensely, given that 40% of California's population is Latinx, and over 30% of the state's Latinx businesses are in Southern California.

L.A.'s black small business community was hit extremely hard, says Dr. Rhonda Thornton-Crawford, director of the USC Small Business Diversity Office. "Black business has been disproportionately distressed for far longer than the COVID-19 pandemic...We are again face-to-face with the reality of lack, loss, and limited opportunities."

Explaining the Inequity

"I've had perfect credit, I have a six-figure income, I have a degree from a great school. But institutions of all types would still see my name and discriminate," says Lilly Rocha, formally Liliana Patricia Rocha Castellar, Chief Executive Officer of the Los Angeles Latino Chamber of Commerce.

She's seen the pandemic hit her community hard.

"A lot of our smaller businesses...they're gone. They're done."

Latinx business owners have struggled to obtain emergency relief funds and leniency from landlords, among other hardships, Rocha says.

She and Salas both note that the initial implementation of the government-relief Paycheck Protection Program did a poor job of helping the businesses most in need. Some of the damage, however, has been mitigated since the program was expanded, they say.

But in explaining why minority-owned businesses have had less access to relief, Salas points to several factors that make these businesses vulnerable even in normal times.

First, Salas says that such businesses "over-index in operating informally structured companies as it relates to legal formation, cash flow management and other administrative-related tasks." This makes it harder for them to get financing at a level that aligns with their actual business needs, rather than based on what official records show. Undocumented-owned businesses are also more likely to be informal, cash-based companies due to owners' limited formal education and fear of deportation. (For what it's worth, Salas highlights his firm's estimate that, nationwide, approximately 800,000 undocumented-owned businesses generate around $100 billion in sales, "and get zero benefits in exchange.")

Data from the National Bureau of Economic Research

Minority and immigrant-owned businesses also tend to make less money and have been operating for less time on average, both of which, Salas says, exacerbate their vulnerability.

Jamarah Hayner, vice chair of the Greater L.A. African American Chamber of Commerce, adds that in the black community, "Historic problems like access to capital have been exacerbated... Most of our businesses are smaller and often family-owned, and we don't always have access to in-house or retained accountants and financial staffs, which make loan applications difficult to tackle. Further, we participate heavily in the restaurant, fitness and beauty industries, which were decimated during the shutdown. Lastly, black-owned businesses have found great success in the past decades in the manufacturing supply chain, so we've struggled as factories have shuttered."

What Comes Next?

"The next important question is whether the shutdowns of small businesses are temporary or longer term," Fairlie writes.

Salas sees the situation unfolding in three stages – relief, recovery, and reinvention – and notes that we're just entering the second stage.

"I think there's a silver lining in the reinvention to come," Salas says, pointing to four potential changes that could lay the groundwork for a more equitable future.

One is an accelerated adoption of financial technologies among Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which are meant to provide financial resources to distressed communities. In tandem, Salas says, the Community Reinvestment Act, a federal law meant to encourage lending to low-income neighborhoods, should be modernized. Its allocation of funding, for example, shouldn't be tied to banks' physical branch locations, which are increasingly closing down as the financial system digitizes.

Salas also points to the need for a realignment of incentives to drive investment from both banks and private investors.

"If we leave these businesses behind," he concludes, "over time it will come back and hurt us."

"Business leaders, businesses and communities must sit down and talk about a cohesive, concrete collective mapping of what is needed," Thornton adds. "The time is now."

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Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.


Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110

Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab

Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor


Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo


Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect


MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


KidsX

The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health


Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP


Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space



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Image Source: Joby Aviation

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Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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