Katie Taylor, Main Street’s Assistant Vice President – Communications, interviews Robert Lattimore, Senior Vice President. Robert has over 35 years of experience in the public, private, and economic development sectors. His experience includes working with company founders, financial institutions, community based organizations, and local municipalities. Robert has helped over 200 entrepreneurs in diverse business sectors. Click here for Robert’s bio.
In 1987, while I was working at a tech company in Silicon Valley, I met an OBDC employee who asked me to volunteer and work with two entrepreneurs who required business assistance. Two days a week I would drive from my home in San Francisco to Santa Clara, then Oakland, and back to SF at the end of my day. In the early days, OBDC’s commitment to business assistance was volunteer-based. Now, in 2016, Main Street Launch has the capacity to provide business consulting ourselves and through strategic partnerships with the Alameda County SBDC (now hosted by Main Street Launch) and other key community-based organizations. Building and strengthening our business assistance capacity has helped to provide more value for businesses we support.
In what ways do you think Main Street Launch brings value to our communities?
We start our days first and foremost believing in the businesses that we support. For over 36 years our work has been and is part of an intentional, long-term strategic community investment. We empower entrepreneurs through education, access to capital, and the development of strong relationships with key stakeholders. At the end of the day, our communities trust us to share with them our financial expertise and business advice.
In what ways do you work with our clients? What’s a brief description of your role at Main Street Launch?
My primary responsibility is to identify, develop, and provide access to capital for African American-owned small businesses. Our goal is to ensure that these businesses have access to the tools and support they need to be sustainable over the long term. I work with entrepreneurs in Oakland, San Francisco, and U.S. military veterans in Alameda, Solano, and Contra Costa counties. I’m especially interested in legacy business and in women-owned businesses at a very early stage.
Why is it important that Main Street Launch has a specific focus on supporting African American entrepreneurs?
Investing in and financing African American businesses locally and nationally provides financial benefits and also public benefits for our country and our local communities. These businesses are job creators, innovators, and economic drivers of our local economy.
African American businesses nationally were the fastest growing segment of small business owners, increasing 60% between 2002 and 2007. Nationally, African American owned businesses are responsible for almost $137.5 billion in receipts annually. In spite of this growth, they are currently extremely fragile businesses.
African American-owned businesses are experiencing a systemic inability to access financial capital from main stream financial institutions. In spite of the horrendous impact of the 2008 recession, African American entrepreneurs were resilient to the extent that they continued to start businesses. Now the problem is figuring out how to keep their doors open. Navigating post-start-up euphoria is difficult, and this is where education, business assistance, and access to capital come together – hence my role here.
What inspires or motivates you about your work with our clients?
I am always inspired by the confidence and drive that our clients have. In almost every case they believe and understand that profit is critical to success, but they are also committed to how they make a profit. Financial, environmental, and social impacts are part of almost every conversation. These entrepreneurs have “profit with a conscious” as part of their business DNA. Perhaps what motivates me most is that our clients are entrusting us with their dreams and families. Our goal is to earn and keep their trust along the way.
What do you enjoy about working at Main Street Launch?
I believe that we are walking the walk. We have perhaps the most diverse workforce of any CDFI in the nation. Our diversity represents an intangible asset to our organization. Knowing this gives me a sense of confidence and comfort that we can deliver on our commitments.
In addition, we have access to perhaps the most innovative entrepreneurs in the country. They view their success through a lens that includes impact not only for themselves but for their community. They want to help others succeed. They often offer to mentor each other in areas where one entrepreneur might have more experience or success than the other. I pass a wall every day in our office that includes pictures of our clients. Every one of them has or is making a difference in the local economy. What I like about working at Main Street Launch is the fact that our clients allow us to be part of their vision.
Anything else you’d like folks to know?
I feel privileged to work with this community and our clients. They are changing the world by changing their community. For people who wonder how they can help change their community, I would say that by volunteering you can make an immediate difference. Simply pick up a phone or email an organization you have interest in and say, “I want to volunteer, can you tell me what you need help with?” You might be amazed at how much a small investment of your time will make in an impact on an organization’s ability to serve a community.