Before the success of her exotic spice blend business, The Spice Suite, Angel Gregorio was a teacher, school counselor, and principal in D.C. public charter schools. She hosted business education meet-ups with her friends, The Spice Girls, in her home and now she’s sharing her passion for education with other emerging Black-owned businesses.
“When I got this space, I immediately knew that I wanted to invite people in,” said Gregorio, 37. “We have enough genius in our community to grow our community.”
So just months after launching her second venture, Black and Forth, a 7,500 square foot strip mall that provides community retail space for local Black-owned businesses in D.C., she decided to provide education for other ambitious entrepreneurs.
Now, class is officially in session for Community Business School (CBS), which is running sessions targeted at Black women to position them for growth (men are welcome, too). The school provides free monthly lectures for business owners in D.C. to learn everything from branding and trademarking to bookkeeping and acquiring commercial real estate. This endeavor also provides business classes for youth and will feature fun school themes like Career Day, Spirit Week, and Wear Your Favorite College Shirt Day.
“It's always been about community and how much more people we can bring along.”
Gregorio has been in business since 2015 and wants to share the knowledge she has learned on her journey with others. CBS is taught by local business leaders or “Community Professors” as Gregorio calls them, undergirds the support needed for Black business owners to achieve long-term success.
“I decided to find the best people that I could find to teach classes on all the things that I know small business owners would need to know to help grow or sustain their businesses,” Gregorio said.
Neidy E. Hornsby, owner of Noir IP, a trademark and business law firm that serves women entrepreneurs, recently led a session on the importance of intellectual property protection through the use of trademarks, patents, and copyrights. By the end of the session, the students were acing her pop-quiz on understanding the difference between protection types.
“My goal is that we think about our intellectual property before we go into the marketplace,” Hornsby said. “I always say don’t let excitement overshadow strategy. We should make sure we’re building on a solid foundation.”
Business sustainability is vital for the Black community. Recent studies conducted by the Harvard Business Review in partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report that while Black women are more likely to start a business, they are less likely to operate a “mature business.”
Findings from the study show that while 17 percent of Black women were in the process or start of a new business, only 3 percent owned “mature businesses.” The study also revealed that, white women are more than twice as likely to be mature business owners (7 percent), despite starting at lower rates.
“Sometimes we’re not going to get a seat at the table because we’re not going to even get in the door,” Gregorio said. “We can’t kick the door in by ourselves. We need a few people to help kick some of these doors in.”
Demand for the free and affordable access to business education and resources is high. Registration for CBS classes caps at 50 people and fills in less than 10 minutes. There are additional opportunities for students to “pull-up” or drop-in as capacity allows.
Myra Riddick, 43, a DMV realtor and entrepreneur attended the session on intellectual property and plans to use the information shared in her business planning.
“Access to these types of classes have not been something that I’ve seen so easily accessible,” Riddick said. “A lot of times you have to write a long essay or have stuff already established in order to be able to qualify for different programs. So, being able to access it with so much ease was really important for me.”
Kima Moore, 32, a Washington native echoed that sentiment. She said she was excited to attend class and inspired to continue in the spirit of community empowerment with an initiative she is building for Black youth in the city.
“It gives me hope,” Moore said. “As a kid growing up on the southside, I didn't have a lot of opportunities to see stuff like this. To see someone–a Black woman–changing the way we live and what we can do and how we can show up in this world. I just want to take up space like Angel and do for my community.”