Interview with Aerica Banks
Co-Founder @ BEACON

Our goal is to make Washington, DC a model city to demonstrate how investors, companies, mentors and government can work together to ensure women entrepreneurs have an equal opportunity to succeed. Partnering with public and private entities, the Initiative will make Washington, DC the most influential and supportive ecosystem for women entrepreneurs in the United States. To do so, BEACON combines direct community engagement with rigorous analysis to drive policy recommendations, while also supporting ecosystem leaders and strategists through a unique grant program. Our work prioritizes four pillars, informed through direct consultation with DC's women founders: Expanding women entrepreneur's access to capital Providing resources and support for women entrepreneurs Creating new business opportunities for women entrepreneurs Inspiring the next generation of women entrepreneurs
What has been the response from policy makers? How have they become involved with the initiative?
Policymakers have been incredibly enthusiastic in their support of Beacon, one of our founding partners is the Mayor's office, Mayor Bowser's office in D.C. and we were also included in a Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship report through the National Women's Business Council.
BEACON is an ideal pathway for women seeking to launch their own entrepreneurial ventures in D.C. What factors most influence your decision whether or not to invest in/give grants to a venture?
Beacon administers a fifty thousand dollar grant on behalf of the city to organizations that support women's entrepreneurship and provided that they meet the requirements of being woman runner led and owned and based in the district. We evaluate their applications on basically four priorities, the first for being today align with our pillars, access to capital or enhancing access to capital, creating or amplifying resources and networks, providing insight on business strategy and opportunities or inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs. And because beacon is all about building the ecosystem here in DC do they highlight or leverage partnerships to make these projects possible; from there we evaluate based on who and how well these organizations support each of those four pillars and obviously the ones that are able to connect the dots the most and amplify that partnership piece are more likely to receive the grant.
What makes D.C. an idea environment to launch a venture like BEACON?
So why D.C. Well, when we live here and this is our community but D.C. is also one of the 10 fastest growing states for women-owned businesses in the US and it is a relatively diversity with a demographic profile that is 44% white, 47% black, so it is still majority black, 10% Latino and 4% Asian, and D.C. sits at the nexus of federal government with some of the top research institutions, top universities and is one of the most mobile areas in the country. D.C. is also an excellent place to start a venture like this and support women-owned businesses because black women in D.C. have the highest number of women-owned businesses and have experienced the highest percentage growth compared to other demographics, and this is on par with what we're seeing nationally in the US with black women being the fastest growing demographic of business owners, and despite that and despite that growth there is a gap in access to resources and opportunity where black-owned businesses especially black women-owned businesses are receiving the least amount in receipts and sales, and so there is a gap that we noticed in terms of where to provide support and resources and how to close this gap, and in that challenge, we saw a lot of opportunity.
Could you please introduce BEACON and what led to your founding the initiative?
Beacon is the DC women founders initiative and it was formed at first in 2016 as an initiative among Georgetown Law Google and the Mayor of DC and now it is a nonprofit, so at the timeline we had a soft launch in 2016 as an initiative, a formal launch at South by Southwest in Austin Texas in 2017 and incorporated as a non-profit in 2018 and the purpose of Beacon is to amplify the networks and organizations that support women's entrepreneurship and to become an ecosystem builder in Washington DC to make DC the number one city for women entrepreneurs, and the reason why this project came together is because the various partners saw and heard from the community that there was a need to support women entrepreneurs in the district and also more than anything restore equity and representation to women in business in the district. As black women are the fastest growing demographic of small business owners in the US and yet they receive the least amount of funding and that ratio holds true in D.C. as well, so we gathered the community together to get their feedback and to get their ideas on how we can best support women founders and women business owners and we, as a result came up with four pillars that Beacon networks on, the first being access to capital, the second resources and networks, the third business strategy and operation support and the fourth is educating the next generation of women entrepreneurs or inspiring the next generation of women entrepreneurs, and so our work is completely grounded in the community where we all live and work in DC and aims to represent and amplify the amazing women founders and business owners and organizations that support women's entrepreneurship in the district.