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Square's Forward program awards funding to 25 Black and Latino small businesses

By Jackie Mallon


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Square launches Forward program Ph Square

Forward, the accelerator program by Square to support early-stage Black and Latino small businesses in the retail sector, received over a thousand applicants by its April 1st deadline. The majority were women-owned businesses. The inaugural program was launched in partnership with 1863 Ventures, American Express, and Social Change Fund United, the organization created by philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and NBA superstars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade, to support critical and timely issues impacting the Black community.

The accelerator's support included providing significant capital, as well as mentorship and training with the successful celebrity entrepreneurs, and access to Square's ecosystem of products to help set the businesses up for long-term success. As mentors Wade was joined by actress Rosario Dawson, restaurateur and author Ayesha Curry, and financial advisors and podcasters Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings of Earn Your Leisure.

According to Square, business owners of color are leading America’s entrepreneurship boom. More than 5 million new business applications were filed in 2022, and Black and Latino Americans are opening more businesses than any other group. Despite these successes, Black and Latino business owners still face systemic barriers to achieving long-term success, which result in higher closure rates. According to a recent Square report, the most common challenges faced by Hispanic businesses is raising capital.

Rosario Dawson, mentor of Forward program by Square Ph. Square

“Latinos open businesses at a rate about 55 percent higher than their white counterparts, and still have a harder time staying in business and getting the support they need to grow,” said Dawson. Forward’s focus was on the critical areas of leadership, customer development, scaling operations and scenario planning. The 25 selected businesses announced last week were awarded 20,000 dollars in funding along with exclusive access to trainings developed in partnership with 1863 Ventures, a recognized leader in providing culturally competent business curricula. Some of the winners in fashion retail were: Salubata for its range of modular shoes made from old plastic bottles using patented technology; BrownMill Company which operates a storefront in Newark, NJ selling menswear that represents the cross-section between streetwear and prep; and Alpine Parrot founded in 2019 as a response to the lack of size and ethnic diversity in outdoor apparel.

FashionUnited invited Square’s Communications Lead, Jeronimo Anaya Ortiz, who was also part of the selection committee to discuss the selection process and the success of the first Forward program.

What was the selection committee looking for, in particular?

We took a lot of factors into consideration as we narrowed down the list. After ensuring that the businesses met our basic criteria, we looked at metrics like revenue, headcount, and growth rate, especially compared to the average in their sector or industry. Once we got past these two initial rounds, it came down to more intangible elements, such as entrepreneurs with one-of-a-kind unique business ideas or profound value propositions we hadn’t seen or heard of before. 

Were there any overall trends in the types of businesses or founders that emerged?

All of these qualified business owners from every corner of the country, entrepreneurs of color, the majority of whom were women, represented a vast array of industries within the retail sector, with the top sectors including beauty and cosmetics, specialty food stores, and E-Commerce. It’s also important to highlight that these businesses are part of the post-pandemic entrepreneurship boom, since many launched during or after 2020. 

How are these emerging entrepreneurs going to change the retail landscape?

Black businesses bring in 141 billion dollars in revenue and provide 1.3 million jobs. Latino-owned businesses create 472 billion dollars in revenue and employ 2.9 million workers. Black and Latino businesses have the power to boost the economy, change their communities for the better, and disrupt their industries. We’re excited to support this initial cohort of entrepreneurs and follow them on their journey in the future. 

What were the challenges of narrowing down from 1000+ businesses to a select few?

While some sellers rose to the top and were unanimous choices, we had so many applicants to choose from that we certainly had to make some tough calls. We carefully weighed all applicants and made sure we had a diverse selection committee throughout the Square organization giving their input on which businesses should make it into the next round. Of course, we will keep in mind those who did not make the cut for future opportunities.

As part of Square’s commitment to the long-term success of this inaugural Forward cohort, there will be a capstone event in Miami in June where the 25 businesses will have the opportunity to meet like-minded business owners, receive additional support and celebrate the completion of the first Forward program.