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Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce's B-Cubed program aids minority-owned businesses

B-Cubed program aids minority-owned businesses

PrePOPsterous Gourmet Popcorn owner Tisha McCoy-Ntiamoah participated in the B-Cubed program. Photo by Norm Shafer

A minority business assistance program in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County has helped 15 businesses and disbursed $21,700 in grant money in its first year of operation.

With $200,000 in state and federal grant awards announced in October 2021, organizers of the Black- and Brown-Owned Business Growth Program, known as B-Cubed, hope to attract more business owners of color to the region and help existing businesses grow.

Launched in February 2021 as an initiative of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Business Council, B-Cubed is a partnership also involving James Madison University, Harrisonburg’s Department of Economic Development, the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance.

Harrisonburg City Council Member Christopher Jones was alarmed when he saw national studies that found Black-owned businesses were failing at a vastly higher rate than white-owned businesses amid the pandemic. Traditional programs to help minority business owners often miss the mark, Jones says, because of barriers such as cumbersome application processes and office hours that aren’t accessible for entrepreneurs working full-time jobs.

“We needed to come up with a program that spoke to Black and brown people and met them where they are,” Jones says.

To gain assistance from B-Cubed, business owners complete a “participation form” — intended to feel more welcoming than an application — and are connected with regional business development groups, the chamber and mentors that can provide networking and business services. 

B-Cubed also provides technical assistance, such as legal, accounting and website development consultations. Participants can receive grants of up to $3,000 to help implement their business goals. Jones anticipates grant amounts will increase this year.

Tisha McCoy-Ntiamoah, owner of PrePOPsterous Gourmet Popcorn, a Bridgewater-based retail and e-commerce popcorn company, used a B-Cubed grant to improve her company’s website and to work with an attorney to create a nondisclosure/noncompete agreement for her employees. It was an important tool to help grow her business, she says, helping her make new hires without fear of jeopardizing her proprietary recipes.

The B-Cubed team was able to point her to local attorneys who specialize in such work, an example of the value of connecting business owners with established community networking circles.

“Once I received the grant and was ready to work with an attorney, I didn’t have to search for one on my own,” McCoy-Ntiamoah says. “It really took the burden off me.”