Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Black entrepreneurs faced significant challenges in launching and growing their businesses. Discrimination, unequal access to capital, and a lack of mentors in the community continually create obstacles for Black-owned start-ups and small companies, even beyond those faced by any other emerging business. Additional burdens related to the pandemic, such as government mandates and revenue losses due to shutdowns, put even more strain on these enterprising companies.
“Black entrepreneurs face unique challenges due to systemic racism, such as lack of generational wealth and access to capital, and lack of mentorship. COVID-19 reinforced these inequities, and Black-owned businesses were disproportionately denied COVID-19 financial assistance from government programs,” said Jennifer Nelson, chief executive officer of the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program (SDVLP), a nonprofit that provides pro bono legal services to low-income and other underserved populations.
To help Black business owners navigate challenges and position themselves to thrive during the outbreak, SDVLP teamed up with the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce to co-host webinars on a range of business and legal issues in November 2020. Former Mintz attorney Paul Brockland and attorney Monique Macek, with former Mintz patent agent Julia Kottmeier, worked behind the scenes to help organize the events, which featured presentations by Mintz attorneys on a broad spectrum of legal issues.
The pro bono effort was an outgrowth of the San Diego Addressing Racial Inequality Group, a Mintz San Diego Office initiative launched after a police officer killed George Floyd in May 2020. The group focuses on pro bono community education and intellectual property services to minority-owned businesses, and engages in other pro bono activities, including mentoring minority students at the University of San Diego School of Law.
At the first webinar, “Common Issues Businesses Face During COVID-19,” attorney Joseph Dunn provided an overview of what small businesses should know about the bankruptcy process, joining speakers who covered legal issues related to commercial leasing, business operations, and state tax credits.
“It was gratifying to share specialized knowledge with those who otherwise may not be familiar with bankruptcy or have the resources to go out and hire someone to advise them,” Joe said.
At another webinar, “How to Grow Your Business During COVID-19,” several Mintz attorneys offered guidance, including attorney Fred Hernandez, who discussed patent, trademark, and copyright issues affecting small businesses. Other panelists included former Mintz attorney Sebastian Bacon, who discussed contracts and entity formation, and attorney Micha Danzig, who covered common employment law pitfalls that new companies face.
“We were honored to be able to provide guidance to members of minority communities that typically do not have a high percentage of business owners, thereby, hopefully giving them a greater chance of success,” Micha said.
To build on the success of the first webinars, the Mintz team is working with the Chamber on a comprehensive IP-focused webinar. Along with covering patents, licensing, and IP litigation, the attorneys will offer an in-depth review of trademarks and trade dress. Participants will also have the opportunity to meet with an attorney in a one-on-one breakout session to discuss their specific questions.
“It’s important to me that Mintz be part of the community beyond the standpoint of just servicing high-paying clients or big corporations,” Fred said. “The community is also the people who live there, including people of color who are underrepresented.”