R.I. business leaders launch coalition to support underserved entrepreneurs

INCRED-A-BOWL co-owner Sterling Spellman, left, and Rhode Island Black Business Association president Lisa Ranglin, right, speak at an event to launch the Business Empowerment Alliance of Rhode Island, a coalition formed to advance women and minority-owned businesses. / PBN PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

EAST PROVIDENCE – When Sterling Spellman and her husband, Russell, launched Incred-A-Bowl Food Co. in 2013, they started with a $25,000 loan from R.I. Commerce Corp. and one food truck.

A decade later, the business has a brick-and-mortar location here at 1075 South Broadway, a second food truck, and runs its own professional development program, Fresh Start, to hire and empower individuals deemed hard to employ, such as people who were formerly incarcerated or have employment gaps.

“When my husband, Russel, and I started this company, we always knew we wanted to be the employers we didn’t have,” Spellman said. “We understand that when we are successful, that means others will be successful, and the community will be successful.”

Under this concept of supporting and empowering traditionally underserved entrepreneurs, including women and minority business owners, a coalition of Rhode Island business leaders converged at Incred-A-Bowl on Thursday morning to announce the launch of the the Business Empowerment Alliance of Rhode Island.

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The coalition, co-chaired by Social Enterprise Greenhouse CEO Julie Owens and Rhode Island Black Business Association President Lisa Ranglin, is formed with a goal of enhancing and streamlining services currently available to entrepreneurs, in addition to expanding this resource network.

“We are creating connections where there were once gaps,” Owens said. “When a business contacts one of us, they contact all of us.”

Owens and Ranglin were joined by leaders and representatives from the Center for Women & Enterprise; the Center for Southeast Asians; Fuerza Laboral; Hope & Main; the R.I. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; the R.I. Small Business Development Center; and state and local officials, including R.I. Secretary of Commerce Elizabeth M. Tanner and East Providence Mayor Roberto L. DaSilva.

Addressing the audience, Ranglin called on state officials “to invest boldly” in minority and women-owned businesses, starting with more funding in the fiscal 2025 budget. The state set aside $3 million to efforts supporting minority and women entrepreneurs in its 2023 budget, but has much further to go, Ranglin added.

“$3 million that is in the budget is not going to do it,” Ranglin said, calling for “$10 million over 10 years in order to drive real change in the state of Rhode Island.”

Speaking at the event, Tanner said that Commerce Corp. has asked for an additional $3 million in the next budget to expand initiatives supporting women and minority-owned businesses.

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.

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