Midlands African Chamber offers operational, financial support to Black businesses in Omaha

Organization has workshops, seed funding, legal aid & more waiting for black entrepreneurs
So, after seeing many struggle this past year, Karine Sokpoh decided to do something about it.
Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 5:14 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - This time last year, you could walk along 60th and Maple streets to grab a selfie and a shot of espresso within a few hundred feet.

Selfie Spot and Dripped and Draped Coffee Shop have more in common than being on the same Benson strip, though: They both went under within months of each other.

“It is heartbreaking, especially when you see the statistics about black businesses and how they fail during the pandemic...the unequal access to lending, unequal availability of mentoring and support,” said Karine Sokpoh, the president and CEO of Midlands African Chamber, the first and only Chamber of Commerce in Nebraska dedicated specifically to advancing minority-owned businesses.

Sokpoh, who’s also a lawyer and entrepreneur says she empathizes with other CEOs struggling to run a company, adding there are a number of reasons small businesses fail and certainly not for lack of hard work.

So, after seeing many struggle this past year, she decided to do something about it.

“I created the chamber during the pandemic in 2020 with the goal to empower, connect and support black and brown businesses in Nebraska,” she said.

And in less than a year and half, she’s done just that.

With 120 diverse businesses now part of the chamber, Sokpoh can offer useful resources like the business development “power hour.”

It’s an online workshop designed for busy CEOs who often juggle many roles.

“It’s online because we understand that small business owners and micro-business owners don’t necessarily have time to go to a workshop physically. They want to be on Zoom or online while they’re doing something else, or they want to watch it later,” Sokpoh said.

Workshops are just one of the many resources the chamber offers.

Their Pitch Black event is another tool in their arsenal, providing seed funding for competitive startups.

“The winner walks away with $10,000 to invest in their business. They also get accounting support, marketing support, and legal support from our members’ businesses,” she said

Sokpoh said she wants black businesses to succeed with the commerce which is why membership dues are low, but even for the ones who don’t join, she says having a network of support is key to longevity.

For that reason, her door is always open to answer questions, or simply point entrepreneurs in the best direction for help.

She notes that many of the resources she offers are also free and on her website, hoping that in the end, all small businesses succeed, with access to information, rather than feeling the need to compete or wrestle to find it.

Sokpoh also says entrepreneurs who didn’t make it into 2022, should give themselves some grace. “It’s one project that didn’t work out. We all need to be able to assess, pivot, and then try again.”

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