By: Alyssa Wilson
Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in America, but the lack of access to capital creates barriers to success. Aisha Taylor Issah is the founder and CEO of the Sistahs in Business Expo (SIB Expo). She embarked on a journey to fill the gap between women of color business owners and success.
The idea for the exposition was born after she realized there was a need in the business community. Issah and her sister started Taylormade Professional Career Consulting over 15 years ago, and they had a desire to enhance their business by participating in expos and events that would allow them to expand their clientele and develop partnerships.
Their goal was quickly knocked down due to the cost of attendance. “We always found them to be cost-prohibitive, and so over the last several years, there’s been so much talk and buzz around women of color entrepreneurs and black women entrepreneurs and the fact that we are the largest and fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs, but at the same time, we are the least funded and the least earning,” she said.
The Federal Reserve System’s 2016 Small Business Credit Survey revealed Black women are more likely than their white peers to identify access to credit as a challenge. The Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy also found that women and minority business owners are denied loans and pay higher interest rates than their white counterparts.
While attending an exposition could have greatly benefited Issah’s business, the cost was something her small business couldn’t afford. From that problem, the Sistahs in Business Expo was created.
As the founder of the company, an ordained minister and a former college professor, Issah is drawn to roles that require service. “The word minister simply means to serve, and so in actuality, we are all called to ministry and to serve in any capacity,” she said. “I just get a real reward from being able to help people.”
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The Sistahs in Business Expo is changing the lives of business owners who are women of color and Issah said the most rewarding parts are small. “It’s the little things you know. The little notes that I get in my DMs that say, ‘Oh my God. Thank you so much.'” Citing emails and testimonies she’s received from women, she appreciates the people who come back to affirm that her business is a blessing. “So, I thank God for those people who take the time to just, you know, say thank you or send a quick note of encouragement or appreciation because it lets me know that all of this hard work is worth it because it’s not falling on infertile soil,” she said.
As businesses owned by Black women continue to increase, the group was also most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Issah realized the virus affected Black women’s businesses and their personal, emotional and financial well-being.
Faced with another challenge of helping Black women entrepreneurs make money during the pandemic, in ways other than e-commerce, Issah came up with another solution in The Sistah Shop. The brick-and-mortar store at The Mills at Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth, New Jersey, has had more than 80 Black women-owned brands selling products since its launch a few months ago. Since its inception, Issah says many business owners have doubled and even tripled the sales they usually would make.
Thinking long-term, Issah has big plans for the Sistahs in Business Expo. “We’ve always been committed to being the premier platform for women of color entrepreneurs to find the resources and opportunities where they can either start, grow or scale their businesses,” she said.
The Sistahs in Business Expo also has a philanthropic arm of the business that is a 501(c)(3) entity, allowing it to give grants and offer free or low-cost courses to women of color entrepreneurs. “Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, we were able to give away over $9,000 through our first pitch competition,” said Issah.
The multi-city exposition is back for 2021 and heading to various cities to promote businesses owned by Black women. You can check out the event in Philadelphia on July 10, in the DMV on August 7, in Atlanta on September 18 and in Newark, NJ, from October 22 – 23. Vendor applications are still being accepted and can be found here.
— Sistahs in Business Expo (@SIBEXPO) June 29, 2021