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Middletown’s Ayanna Khan Lends a Hand to Black-Owned Businesses

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Nationwide, more than 40 percent of Black-owned businesses have gone under since the pandemic began. Illustration by Tim Foley

The founder of Delaware’s first black chamber of commerce has big plans to help minority-owned businesses.

Launching a groundbreaking business organization during a pandemic might not seem like an ideal scenario for success, but, as Middletown resident Ayanna Khan says, “Never waste a crisis.”

Khan founded the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce (DEBCC) in August to help Black-owned small businesses survive and thrive. The first organization of its kind in the state, DEBCC will offer training, resources and grant funding.

Undaunted by the hurdles involved in establishing an ambitious venture in the middle of major health crisis, Khan says, “This is the perfect time to do that. The pandemic was one of the reasons why I launched DEBCC.”

Although the organization is only a few months old, Khan has used the time to conduct information sessions, network and forge partnerships, including with Wilmington University, where she earned a degree in human services.

A consultant specializing in helping organizations raise money, Middletown’s Ayanna Khan founded the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce in August to offer much-needed traning, resources and grant funding to Black-owned businesses struggling amid the pandemic.

The response has been gratifying. “People are very supportive. I’ve been getting lots of calls and lots of emails from individuals who want to get involved, saying it’s very needed here,” she says.

Khan, who’s originally from New York, has lived in Delaware for the past decade with her two children. She served on the boards of other local business development groups, the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce and Middletown Main Street Inc., and explained she was inspired to start one for Black-owned businesses after hearing about people losing or coming close to losing their companies due to COVID-19, and seeing closed stores and “Going Out of Business” signs.

Nationwide, more than 40 percent of Black-owned businesses have gone under since the pandemic began, Khan notes.

A disproportionate number of minority-owned businesses have not benefited from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), she explains. Businesses run by people of color were more likely than white-owned businesses to be at a disadvantage when applying for PPP program funds, Khan says, citing a report by the Center for Responsible Lending. “That raised a red flag for me that something had to be done.”

Minority-owned small businesses are likely to have fewer employees and less revenue than white-owned businesses, according to the report. As a result, minority-owned firms are less likely to qualify for larger loans that would make them a priority for PPP lenders.
The DEBCC aims to support small businesses by helping them connect with larger companies and one another; providing business development training and education; and raising awareness about Delaware’s Black business community through lobbying and advocacy at local, state and federal levels, Khan says.

As a consultant who specializes in helping organizations raise money, Khan plans to offer grant funding through the DEBCC. “During the pandemic, providing a $5,000 grant could help a business make rent and not have to shut down,” she says.

However, Khan notes that while DEBCC targets Black-owned businesses, its services are available to all businesspeople in Delaware. “Even though it’s called the Black Chamber of Commerce, it’s not only for Black businesses. It’s for everyone.”