Registration is available now for the first Black and Brown Business Summit hosted by the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, scheduled for April 22-23.

Hosted at Athene, the summit is organized by the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce’s 27-member Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, led by Chamber Vice Chairperson Angela Jackson. Despite offering only limited in-person attendance tickets, the event’s livestream will be accessible to those beyond the city of West Des Moines, and all event sessions will be translated into Spanish in real time for viewers. Athene can host up to 60 people on-site for the summit, but by virtually streaming all sessions organizers would like to reach 800 nationally.

Designed to support current and aspiring business owners who are Black, Indigenous or other people of color, the summit will highlight business vendors and feature workshops on social media, marketing, business finances and legal advice, said Jackson, senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Athene. Jackson also owns the Great Frame Up, based in West Glen Town Center.

“We have big dreams and big ideas about how to do this,” Jackson said. “This has really grown to be from a small event in West Des Moines to literally global, if we want it to be.”

The Black and Brown Business Summit will host a limited in-person pitch competition on April 22 for up to 30 businesses. Six individuals will be selected to present their business pitch to a panel of judges for a $10,000 prize, said Bobbi Segura, Central & Siouxland regional manager for Women Lead Change.

The pitch event will be a full-day workshop leading up to the competition to teach entrepreneurs how to develop their pitches for future investors. Applications for the contest have already closed, but registration is still available for the pitch workshop, which will take place in person at Athene, Segura said.

“Diversity in entrepreneurs is important. It is something that only helps our community, its economic development and its workforce development,” Segura said.

Keynote speakers on April 23 are NFL veteran and University of Pennsylvania professor Brandon Copeland and Herrera-Cristina Group founder and president George Herrera, who formerly served as president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Proceeds from T-shirts sold at the summit will be donated directly to the NAACP Des Moines branch and Jewels Academy, a STEM education nonprofit serving young women in grades 4-12.

The pandemic placed new hardships on minority-owned businesses that already had less access to capital than white-owned small businesses, Jackson said. According to national Census Bureau data, only 2.2% of the 5.7 million employer businesses in the U.S. are Black-owned. In the recent McKinsey’s U.S. Business Pulse Survey, 42% of minority-owned businesses reported that obtaining credit for their business was becoming increasingly difficult during the COVID-19 crisis, compared with 29% of all respondents.

“It was really important to have something that was a low barrier to entry” to the summit, Jackson said. “I think it’s important to recognize this is not a one-and-done event. This is something that we plan to do annually, and it also is something that is a precursor to other events to come — things along the line of supplier diversity workshops, and conferences that elevate the profile of minority businesses that need to be elevated all year long.”

“Our business community has to step up, and as small businesses owners that are diverse, we have to support one another, and we have to support those who may not have all the economic advantages,” she added.