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Black women are making waves when it comes to business ownership. According to a Nielsen report, there were 1.5 million Black woman majority-owned businesses as of 2015. Despite them being the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country, the journey to becoming their own bosses is no easy feat. Many women of color face socio-economic barriers that hold them back from stepping into the realm of entrepreneurship. The Lillian Project—a Harlem-based incubator designed to educate and empower budding women entrepreneurs in the community—is looking to change that narrative and level the playing field for low and middle-income Black women when it comes to launching their own ventures.

The initiative—which got its moniker from Lillian Harris Dean; a Black woman who migrated from Mississippi to Harlem in 1901, launched her own culinary business, and flipped her earnings to make a name for herself in real estate—was created by the Harlem Business Alliance. The program—which launched in 2016—is funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation.

The women who are accepted into the incubator undergo 16-weeks of intensive training where they cover topics that include business development, financial literacy and marketing to equip them with the skills and tools needed to bring their vision of entrepreneurship to fruition. The program aims to take their business concepts from the ideation stage to an operating enterprise. The challenges that the program participants face vary, with some women not knowing how to develop a business plan and others lacking the confidence and belief that they can make entrepreneurship a reality for themselves based on their life’s circumstances. The Lillian Project is proving that with the right resources and support Black women entrepreneurs can thrive no matter what stage of life they are in.

“Our team at HBA has seen confidence boosts, business acumen sharpened and more importantly businesses come to life right before us. TLP business models range from eco-friendly foot hosiery to technology-based industries,” The Lillian Project Program Director Gina B. Ramcharan said in a statement. “Imagine women, many of whom have suffered hardship find their voice and the courage to secure their first deal. The women are encouraged to approach their businesses with the methodology of CRAWL, WALK, RUN; start small and grow.”

The past cohorts have included women who were single mothers; some of whom were previously incarcerated for non-violent offenses. For many of its participants, the Lillian Project has served as a source of hope and has empowered them to reclaim their lives. 66 percent of the women who have participated in the program have operating businesses.

The program is currently accepting applications for its 5th cohort and the deadline is August 1. Learn more about The Lillian Project.

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