Alisha Hawkins and her husband, Lamont, just wanted to renovate their Inner City Blues barbecue restaurant in Church Hill.
What they thought would be a 10-day renovation at the restaurant on Nine Mile Road quickly turned into a three-month skirmish filled with runarounds and confusion.
She was unaware of a myriad of issues. For example, if she bought new equipment, she would have to change the gas lines and that would require obtaining a new permit from the city.
While the renovation was a learning experience, Hawkins quickly realized she didn’t want to go through a similar battle again — and that she wanted to help others. One step she took: She joined the Jackson Ward Collective.
“Now that I’m in this group, I’m hoping that I can share those experiences with the next person that’s going through my same walk and don’t have those same experiences,” Hawkins said.
The Jackson Ward Collective aspires to guide Black entrepreneurs so they won’t endure similar, or worse, situations like Hawkins experienced. The idea for the members-only group is to connect Black business owners with one another to provide resources, including helping with running and growing a business and offering important services such as legal or sponsorship services.
Three Black business women — Rasheeda Creighton, Kelli Lemon and Melody Short — spearheaded the initiative after noting a gap in terms of support for Black entrepreneurs in their own ventures.
Creighton is the founder and CEO of The 3Fifty Group, a business consulting company. A former Capital One employee, Creighton is the former executive director of the 1717 Innovation Center in Shockoe Bottom that supports startups and the entrepreneurial community.
Lemon, a radio personality, owns the Urban Hang Suite social café on East Broad Street in Jackson Ward. She used to be the business manager at Mama J’s restaurant and is the co-founder of the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience.
Short is the co-founder of the Richmond Night Market, a monthly family-focused vendors market. She also is the marketing and membership director for the Metropolitan Business League, a nonprofit that serves small, women- and minority-owned businesses in central Virginia.
The Jackson Ward Collective aims to help Black business owners, but the collective and the Metropolitan Business League plan to collaborate to help members.
The Jackson Ward Collective began in mid-September and is already at its 150-member capacity. The Black businesses in the Richmond region that have joined the collective include Adiva Naturals, Lucid Living, Ruby Scoops Ice Cream and Sweets.
The collective offers different services based on the businesses’ needs from an initial assessment.
For more established businesses, the Jackson Ward Collective will cater toward long-term goals, while newer businesses will have more help on operating techniques and providing educational resources.
“It’s all a part of the secret sauce,” Short said.
“We believe we can make that connection point to each other and use resources that can help us learn, grow and own in the Black community,” Creighton said.
As of right now, Creighton, Lemon and Short run the day-to-day operations of the collective, but are hoping to expand once the entity gains more traction.
When the Jackson Ward Collective first opened, members paid either a monthly rate of $9.99 or a yearly rate of $100. Now, members who join pay either $19.99 a month or an annual fee of $200.
Historically, Black people have struggled to gain the same access to funding, resources and connections to fuel businesses, said Chandra Briggman, president and CEO of Activation Capital, which provides grants to support organizations that provide mentoring and other resources for startup companies and entrepreneurs in the region.
Access to funding is imperative for both underrepresented and aspiring entrepreneurs who face the same challenges to share ways to navigate their barriers, she said.
“If given the access and opportunities to develop from idea to scale, the African American community here in Richmond could positively impact the local economy,” said Briggman, who took over the role at Activation Capital on May 1 after serving as director of a nonprofit working to grow entrepreneurship in New England.
Activation Capital also plans to work with the Jackson Ward Collective in the future, she said.
While the collective tends to focus on business owners across the Richmond area, the organization wants to push Black entrepreneurs to pursue their business in the spirit of what Jackson Ward once was.
Once called the Black Wall Street and the Harlem of the South, Jackson Ward used to be the epicenter in Richmond to a bustling Black business and entertainment community. The co-founders decided to name the organization after the area because of that.
Lemon, who describes herself a “serial social entrepreneur,” recalls the beginnings of opening the Urban Hang Suite at 304 E. Broad St. as a reason for starting the collective.
In order to obtain a business license, she thought she had to speak to various City Hall departments only to find out later that she didn’t need to go through all those channels.
Going through that process irked her greatly, but Lemon said her experience with previous businesses allowed her to persevere. Yet for novice business owners, that process alone can be extremely discouraging, she said.
“[Some business owners] just didn’t want to go through it because it didn’t feel like they could see the end of the tunnel,” Creighton said.
Todd Waldo, founder of management consulting company Hugh Helen LLC, joined the Jackson Ward Collective because he wants to have a group of Black businesses to support him in his journey to expand his business.
“You need that space to connect with others that are on a similar trajectory and have a place where we can get additional support for some of the challenges we’re facing,” Waldo said.
Waldo recounts his experience working in both corporate and small businesses. Too often, Waldo said he rarely found other people who looked like him while working in his previous roles.
Richmond is a super relational city, Waldo noted. But while Richmond is home to many professional Black entrepreneurs, he said there tends to be a limit that can eventually inhibit prospective business owners.
Inner City Blues’ Hawkins agrees.
“I think a lot of times we just try to stay in your lane when in actuality you might need to know a little more when it comes to what you know just to have an understanding,” Hawkins said.