December 7, 2021

Pierce County Business Accelerator invests in the historically divested

Equity can only be achieved by removing barriers and changing organizational systems that historically have disregarded minority communities. The Pierce County Business Accelerator Program (PCBA) emphasizes that positive change.

“Practical investment is happening in Pierce County,” said EDB Annual Meeting guest speaker Rachel Askew, assistant director of PCBA and founder and CEO of NEXT Organizational Culture & Equity Consulting. “It’s allowing people who have been marginalized to have access and pathways not just to entrepreneurship, but to a new way of life.”

Acknowledging disparities

Pierce County launched the Business Accelerator in August 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact in underserved communities. American Rescue Plan Act funding helped make it happen, along with partnerships with Tacoma Urban League, Asia Pacific Cultural Center, The Black Collective and Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.

“We all went through a whole lot in 2020, including world-shaking and -shifting realizations,” Askew said. “People began to acknowledge that disparities exist.”

Between October 2021 and July 2022, the PCBA aims to reach 200 business owners and entrepreneurs. It’s focus is on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), veteran and women-owned businesses. Collectively, up to a dozen cohorts of 25 participants receive business training, coaching, and technical and networking support. But assistance goes beyond the six-week program. Participants have access to potential funding, matching-grant resources, a commercial rent stipend and continued coaching and mentorship.

“We want to ensure that folks aren’t just financially resourced but have the coaching and professional services to maintain a sustainable business,” Askew said.

Equity throughout

Equity threads throughout the program, from participants from across industries, to instructors who reflect the diversity of the cohorts, to professional-services providers.

Two PCBA cohorts in Tacoma recently graduated. A third in Lakewood, taught in Korean and Vietnamese, wraps up in December. The inaugural cohorts include 72 businesses that are:

  • – 96 percent minority owned
  • – 68 percent women owned
  • – 9 percent veteran owned

The program has yielded more than expected in the form of networking and mentorships within cohorts. For example, seasoned pros offer decades of business acumen, and entrepreneurs in the start-up phase provide critical branding and social media insight.

Extending its reach

Plans are in the works to expand the program to Puyallup and East Pierce County. As the PCBA extends its reach, more mentors and professional services providers (particularly accountants) are needed to support this important work.

If you’d like to be involved or have questions about the PCBA, contact Askew or NEXT COO Grant Twyman at [email protected] or 971.238.3626.

Did you miss it? Watch Rachel Askew’s presentation here. (Use the passcode 59$tT7U6). (You can find her at the 10:30-minute mark.)


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