This post was originally published on St. Louis American

By Karen Robinson-Jacobs

Harris-Stowe State University will have new tools to boost its entrepreneurial offerings to African American students and community members in the St. Louis area thanks to a nearly half-million-dollar grant from the Pittsburgh-based PNC Foundation.

The PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group, announced Tuesday it has awarded HSSU a three-year, $450,000 grant to establish E3 powered by PNC, an initiative that will provide up to $150,000 a year to help the university share entrepreneurship and economic empowerment resources with Black students and business founders in the St. Louis region.

The PNC grant is the largest the university has ever received to support its Minority  Entrepreneurship Collaborative Center for Advancement (MECCA), which launched in the fall of 2020 and is part of the Anheuser-Busch School of Business at HSSU. Programs launched with the new grant funding will fall under the MECCA umbrella.

The PNC grant also marks the financial services giant’s first investment in the region’s only HBCU.

“We are truly excited about this partnership,” said Dr. LaTonia Collins Smith, interim president of HSSU, which has about 1,200 students, including 400 in the School of Business. “It will definitely help us deliver entrepreneurship and economic empowerment resources to … not only our students, but to other entrepreneurs in the community.

“This project is in alignment with one of our goals and our mission: to provide opportunities for students very early, young people very early on,” she added. “So this project has a component for financial education for minority high school students, as well. So it will give us an opportunity to be able to provide some financial literacy and financial education to not only our students but high school students and also the community.”

Dr. LaTonia Collins Smith, Interim President of Harris-Stowe State University speaks on the importance of PNC’s grant to the University Tue. Jan. 25, 2022 at the campus. Photo by Wiley Price/St. Louis American

The initiative is designed to address the unequal access to business resources among Black entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs locally. If Black St. Louisans started and owned businesses at the same rate as white residents, the region would be home to more than 8,000 additional businesses and about 66,000 additional jobs, according to the STL 2030 Jobs Plan.

Michael Scully, PNC’s regional president for St. Louis, called those statistics “startling” and added, “When you see [statistics] like that, you say, ‘where do you want to place your investments and energy?’ And it just seemed to make all kinds of sense that we do so with this investment in Harris-Stowe.”

Business school Dean Dr. Stacy Gee Hollins, said Tuesday she sees the grant as a “difference maker.”

African American-owned businesses are often small, with only one or two employees and limited revenue streams. 

Last fall, the U.S. Census Bureau released the 2020 Annual Business Survey (ABS), which estimates that there were 134,567 Black- or African American-owned businesses in the nation, with $133.7 billion in annual receipts and  1.3 million employees.

By comparison, there were an estimated 581,200 Asian-owned businesses with estimated receipts of $874.6 billion, the largest tally among all minority groups.

The PNC grant “gives us enough resources to stand up a business so that it has to expand,” said Gee Hollins, who as a teen worked  as a secretary in her grandmother’s business. “It gives us enough resources for mentoring and other skills needed for them to be so successful that they end up needing to [hire] more help.”

E3 powered by PNC offerings will include education and  training on business planning, marketing and financial management; pitch training and competitions; minority entrepreneurship-focused events; and financial education for minority high school and college students.  

The launch of E3 marks the latest PNC initiative to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities throughout the country. Last fall, The PNC Foundation announced a five-year, $16.8 million grant to create The Howard University and PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship – aimed at building resources and support for Black business owners across the country.

Photo by Shefa Ahsan

Both are part of PNC’s nationwide $88 billion Community Benefits Plan, which also includes a previously announced commitment of more than $1 billion to support the economic empowerment of Black and low- to moderate-income communities.  

A “large component” of the total program will be small business lending, Scully said, who noted that the financial services company has “just shy of 40” branches locally.

“Entrepreneurship and economic empowerment are foundational to the success of our region’s local  economy and the dynamic startup environment for which Greater St. Louis is known,” added Scully. “Nurturing inclusive growth – which is what this initiative is all about – is vital to developing our local  workforce and unlocking our region’s full economic potential.”  

Some aspects of the PNC program began this semester at the university. It and MECCA, which has been awarded nearly $400,000 in grants, will be housed in  the HSSU Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which is set to open this fall.

Karen Robinson-Jacobs is The St. Louis American / Type Investigations business reporter and a Report for America corps member.