Entrepreneurs of color from around the nation connect at IF Lab’s first virtual symposium

The new speaker series is based in Philly, but has a much wider reach.

IF Lab cofounders Tayyib Smith and Meegan Denenberg

IF Lab cofounders Tayyib Smith and Meegan Denenberg

Facebook / Little Giant Creative

Philadelphia entrepreneurs of color joined experts and startup founders of color from around the nation last week for a rare chance to bounce thoughts off one another, with renowned author and Brookings Institute Fellow Andre Perry at the center.

Eighty-six faces from around the country clocked in remotely to the luminary-filled Zoom meeting, the first “In the Lab” session hosted by the Kensington-based IF Lab.

It focused on Perry’s new book “Know Your Price,” which explores how Black Americans have been intentionally disenfranchised, told from a first-person account.

The coronavirus actually made the gathering easier, said co-organizer Tayyib Smith. He and the rest of the IF Lab team, who are also behind Little Giant Creative and the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship, thought up the speaker series earlier this year — but something with this reach would’ve been hard to pull off in person.

“We’re under-resourced,” Smith said, “so for me to gather 80 people physically from nine cities… What’s that cost? A quarter million dollars, half a million dollars.”

While the target audience is Philly residents, Smith and the Little Giant team have far-reaching connections. They took the remote conversation as a chance to widen the intended audience, drawing in viewers from as far away as Detroit and Miami.

“The outreach was kind of curated,” Smith explained. “That’s my tribe. Those are the people we’ve collaborated with since we started doing the Institute for Hip Hop Entrepreneurship or any number of projects that we’ve done.”

Perry is based in D.C., and almost no one on the yet-to-be-released list of upcoming speakers is Philly local. Hopping on Zoom cuts down on plenty of the logistics challenges associated with putting on what’s tantamount to a national ideas conference every few weeks.

That’s especially crucial for organizations run by underserved communities, Smith said.

Leveraging resources for entrepreneurs of color is exactly what Smith and teammate Meegan Denenberg want to do through “In the Lab,” especially at a time like this.

COVID-19’s disproportionate cultural impact threatens to widen an already massive fissure in wealth and opportunity between white Americans and under-resourced groups.

Since the pandemic hit the U.S. back in February, Black people have had the worst coronavirus health outcomes, business owners of color have been iced out of government-sponsored economic supports more often than majority entrepreneurs, and minorities and low-income people have been most affected by coronavirus-related layoffs.

While inequities aren’t new, the pandemic has held up a magnifying glass.

It has also shown that some of the health and economic disparities plaguing Philadelphia are also happening nationwide, something Smith and Denenberg hope their newest initiative can drive home.

“[W]e have built a huge network of other entrepreneurs of color around the country from whom we gain and share inspiration, best practices and intellectual property,” Deneberg said. “This has been the foundation and starting point for all of our initiatives and for ‘In the Lab’ which is an extension of the ethos that drives our work.”

How does the speaker series work?

Smith, Denenberg and team have compiled a list of nationally renowned experts in the fields of tech, the arts, policy, retail, investment and development. They’ll invite guests onto a zoom call with the expert based on the guests’ own interests, Denenberg said.

Don’t worry if you aren’t notified or miss a session. IF Lab will post a recording of the conversation and any materials involved on an In the Lab website expected to launch at weeks end.

If you want to keep up with In the Lab developments, Denenberg said there’ll be an email sign up on the Little Giant Creative website soon.

No new speakers have been scheduled yet. Smith said, stay tuned.

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