For many in the LGBT community, starting a business is about more than just bringing an idea to the marketplace. It’s about ensuring fair treatment by creating their own opportunities.
This was one of the sentiments shared at the second annual Bronx LGBT Business Convening at Metropolitan College of New York on Saturday that drew an estimated 300 participants.
Joselyn Mendoza, founder and CEO of a cosmetic company named Mirror Beauty Cooperative, said that finding any kind of work is difficult under the current federal administration, both as a trans woman and Mexican immigrant.
The Queens-based Mendoza told attendees at the Transgender Entrepreneurship workshop that founding a cooperative allowed her and her colleagues to “have a job with dignity.”
Networking opportunities abounded at the session, sponsored by the Third Avenue Business Improvement District and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and which drew representatives from 18 state and city agencies.
Participants said the ability to share experiences of having overcome obstacles in the business world was what made the gathering most valuable to them.
Joseph Schneier, a 22-year veteran of running start-up companies, said he co-founded Trusty.Care to match people with healthcare options after struggling to sign his younger brother up for Medicaid following a car accident.
“I think everybody in the trans universe knows that navigating healthcare is not easy,” said Schneier, a transgender man who says he is frequently misgendered while working in the healthcare system.
Michael Brady, CEO of the Third Avenue business district, said that having a safe space where the LGBT community can exchange ideas is vital to business growth.
He pointed to the Bronx’s 7.2 % spike in GDP from 2017 to 2018, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce report, and unemployment below 5 percent as evidence of the borough’s increasingly business-friendly atmosphere. Still, barriers unique to LGBT communities in the business world remain, he said.
“I think homophobia and transphobia are two unique elements that severely impact LGTBQ businesses,” said Brady. “And that’s in addition to other challenges like financing and business plan development or scaling your business to e-commerce.”
As a global city, New York and its business community should work to remove these hurdles, he said.
Some entrepreneurs have not only been embraced in spite of their identity, but because of it. Nikki Jax, vice president of sales and systems design at the Port Morris-based event production company ATD Audio Visual, credited her “status and my particular flamboyance” as an asset in growing her business.
She listed learning about green energy initiatives, plus the loan and grant programs that accompany them, as the most valuable takeaways of the event.
“By going green, it gives you a competitive advantage without needing a permit, and also, straight up, just to be more health conscious. It can be not beneficial to one’s health to be sitting next to a 7000 watt generator for eight hours while you’re doing a production,” said Jax.
Another prevailing message was one of economic strength. Jonathan Lovitz, senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, cited a 2016 estimate that the American LGBT community spends approximately $917 billion per year, and that those consumers are looking to support LGBT Business Enterprise-certified businesses.
Another benefit of increasing the number of certified businesses, Lovitz noted, is that prices drop as more suppliers enter the market and so all consumers benefit.
Diaz Jr., one of the event’s keynote speakers, said “Events such as these are key in helping LGBTQ businesses and LGBTQ entrepreneurs attain access to vital resources and support, so that they can continue to grow and thrive.”