Tim unlocks opportunities for wealth creation for Black, rural entrepreneurs by shifting our current economic development approach away from an overemphasis on collateral and prior wealth, and towards an appreciation of peer support and community prosperity.
The New Idea
In the United States, the legacy of slavery has been felt by Black Americans for generations. Though slavery was abolished in 1865, legal policies have systematically prevented gains of physical and financial capital for Black Americans. From the Jim Crow South to the Homestead Act to the Black Wall Street Massacre of 1921, the United States has a legacy of segregation and economic discrimination that has left Black Americans unfairly disenfranchised, leaving the country with significant racial equity gaps that need to be addressed. Black Americans in the rural South of the United States especially feel these impacts, due to financial exclusion and lack of support particularly explicit in their part of the country.
Tim recognizes that the current economic system is not working for everyone, especially not for rural Black entrepreneurs who are unable to start businesses due to lack of capital and collateral, which have been compounded with racialized conditions that make financial support extractive or non-existent. Through the non-profit Higher Purpose Co, Tim has not only created a statewide community of Black entrepreneurs, artists, and farmers who are collectively supporting one another as a “new generation of local economy practitioners.” He is also strategically linking this community with an engaged and transformed network of financial institutions and funders that collaborate and coordinate in new, for-the-good-of-all ways. Through these efforts Tim is creating rural economic development networks for Black Americans to collectively build political, cultural, and financial capital and break the cycle of generations of economic injustice that have dominated the South.
Tim’s insights and new approach are rooted in his experience in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a city of 15,000 in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. But the entrepreneurs he supports are scattered around the state, the funding network includes institutions from coast to coast, and demand for his novel model is already international. To meet that demand Tim has created a model that can spread to other rural communities where economic opportunities that generate wealth, employment, and prosperity are missing and desperately needed. Rather than perpetuating present, individualistic economic systems that do not address underlying systemic inequities, Tim and his work point us towards visions of collective wealth, shared prosperity, and community-based knowledge, all of which combined can generate incredible economic, social, and political change and revival across rural American economies.
The development of personal wealth and capital in the US is mostly driven by business, home, and land ownership, all of which have been historically been limited for Black communities in America (and federally subsidized for middle class whites). In 2020, The Washington Post reported that the home ownership gap between Black and white Americans is larger today that it was in 1934, when the Federal Housing Administration was established. This legacy of wealth disparities has been compounded by a lack of investment in rural and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, resulting in neighborhoods that are underfunded and overlooked.
Tim gently points out the absurdity and injustice here. The capital that aspiring Black entrepreneurs want access to is the very same wealth that they themselves helped create during periods of slavery and forced labor. And the fact that they systematically and legally can’t access this very capital today for want of colleterial, good credit, or existing capital boggles the mind.
Here and there, there are examples of black entrepreneurs who have overcome these challenges and found success in our current system. And yet Tim is not motivated by a few, exceptional “Black Capitalist” success stories. In fact, he worries that – if unquestioned – these few exceptions further entrench all of us in an economy that rewards one over many and requires us to acquiesce and hope that the current system will recognize our efforts and reward us. Therefore, a jumping off point for Tim’s work is an active interrogation of the principles of individualistic prosperity and sole decision-making powers or influence. To Tim, the solution to generations of economic inequality is to create collective, prosperous community wealth, where communities are built, supported, and uplifted by one another in a non-extractive way—rather than celebrating the prosperous wealth of a single person.
This work of bringing together a community and working together towards a big, bold, and collective vision takes talent and time. There is an urgent need for programs and organizations that have long-standing, rooted, and locally committed teams with social capital and knowledge of how their community operates. And yet local teams with years of experience, energy, and support to maintain momentum and morale are exceedingly rare in the rural economic development sector. In fact, this underperforming sector has a way of repelling energized, entrepreneurial talent (who generally conclude that they can do better – individually – venturing out on their own and starting businesses, rather than help other aspiring entrepreneurs make a go of it).
Tim experiences all these challenges in his life and work in the Mississippi Delta. And yet he’s not about to jump ship, either by going solo or moving away. This is where Tim was raised, and where he realized an idea for how to help lead his community towards collective wealth and prosperity.
From 2015-2020, Tim has developed a comprehensive model for economic transformation that builds on the strengths of local changemakers, gets funders unstuck, and leverages the untapped assets of changemakers and funders alike to create better systems that work towards the goal of shared prosperity. Notably absent from Tim’s model is the dependence on prior wealth or access to capital as a measure of someone’s trustworthiness and creditworthiness.
At the foundation of Tim’s work is the core belief that Black entrepreneurs need access to opportunities and capital in order to thrive. Higher Purpose Co’s (HPC) asset building strategy has allowed them to serve 700 Black entrepreneurs, farmers, and artists, with many of them being Black women, who statistically have earnings far behind white men and women in the US. HPC also aims to have served 300 additional Black entrepreneurs by 2022.
And yet, unlike traditional business accelerators or incubators, HPC isn’t fixed on the number of individual businesses, or on a few individual break-out success stories. In addition to providing more traditional resources for emerging entrepreneurs, Tim believes that community-based knowledge and encompassing cultural and historical contexts are crucial to building collective success and a collective economy.
The programming that Tim and HPC provide benefits individual entrepreneurs while also reinforcing the overall regional business community. The Higher Purpose Business Fellowship is the first Business Fellowship for Black entrepreneurs in Mississippi. At its core it is a six-month program for Black entrepreneurs. Cohorts can learn about entrepreneurship through community building and partnership investments. Immersion trips to cities like Jackson, MS, Montgomery, AL, and Selma, AL have resulted in community-based research and policy education for Black Southern residents. These programs serve as a launchpad for creating local businesses and relationships. Yet they also provide a space for community reflection around the systemic policies and structural barriers that have limited collective prosperity in the Black community for so long, and how to collectively build a community that thrives. And that’s exactly what happens next.
The work of spotting new business opportunities, making connections, doing business with peer organizations, and weaving these together is central to the success of HPC and its members. For example, an HPC couple with a successful juice business in Jackson handed over their playbook and helped an entrepreneur set up in Clarksdale (5 hours north and outside their target market), and entrepreneurs working as midwives, childcare providers, photographers, and lactation consultants coordinate and share client referrals, and signal to the network where gaps – like children’s programming – might be filled by up-and-coming entrepreneurs. An intelligent, connected, and coordinated network stands a far better chance of interfacing and influencing the current system than individuals.
This collective intelligence and peer support de-risks the individual enterprises, and that value is not lost on funders—another obvious stakeholder in asset building programming who have long been disconnected from rural Black communities. To this end HPC is building a vetted and engaged network of funders (the “Funding Network”) who are eager to do business with previously overlooked (they might say “untapped”) community members. HPC provides services like capital matchmaking, application packaging, and customized business growth support to help funders and local entrepreneurs alike get acquainted. HPC then helps their members navigate the full ‘capital stack’ of grants, small zero interest loans, low interest loans, and venture capital that the Funding Network brings to the table. This allows HPC – or any other organization adopting this approach – to act as a status-quo-shifting intermediary, creating capital blueprints for businesses that acknowledge and meet entrepreneurs’ and funders’ changing needs over time, with fewer unknowns, less friction, and support throughout.
In addition to linking their entrepreneurs with banks and funders, HPC has also been successful in raising funds from national impact investors and philanthropic investors alike to offer loan guarantees, helping those in their network overcome the hurdle of pre-existing capital or collateral. HPC can facilitate zero interest loans through their partnership with Kiva, as the region’s first Kiva Hub. And HPC’s own fundraising has allowed them to deploy over $750,000 in affordable capital to residents across Mississippi. Paired with the fact that Tim has been able to effectively collateralize peer support and collective intelligence, HPC’s ability to fundraising flexible capital further contributes to a guarantee system that ensures even risk averse funders can do more business with community entrepreneurs.
The experience of funders has been so positive that Tim and team have found they can apply even more leverage, asking for better terms or at least more accessible processes, like common applications and tweaks that streamline application processes (limiting the number of in-person meetings, printing, and scanning) in a way that acknowledges the experience of their entrepreneurs, like farmers and hourly workers for whom this current system is too inflexible.
The HPC idea is also catching on and being replicated in other rural communities, such as Little Rock, Arkansas and Bentonville, Arkansas. Tim has also spoken to colleagues in Canada about replicating the model there, ensuring that the concept of “wealth creation” is beginning to be reimagined in communities across the North American continent. Non-profit community-based organizations will be a key component of Tim’s spread strategy, and he’s finding that they have many of the ingredients necessary to adopt and deploy this full, transformative model. It may only require a few tweaks to center collective wealth and coordinated business practices in these groups, and then they too can build funding networks, capital blueprints, loan guarantee funds, and unlock economic opportunities. While it requires time and effort, the outsized value that supporting organizations operating in this way significantly de-risks investments and can translate into more options for funding, even without existing capital or collateral. Through this approach, Tim is helping communities crack open the current wealth-creation system so that it finally works for those who need it most.
Tim and his team are committed long-term to the work of interrupting inter-generational poverty and the time it will take to do that. To stay the course, they prioritize team wellbeing, professional development, and tenure. And as Tim starts to formally share and spread the model far and wide, he and his core team are setting down roots in the Delta by developing a large downtown Clarksdale headquarters for a range of uses, from HPC operations and programming, to mixed-use venues for their up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
Tim’s family history has deep roots in Mississippi and the Delta region. While he himself was born in Chicago, he was still in grade school with his family moved back to the region. Tim decided to stay close to home and attended Mississippi Valley State University, which helped him to understand the significant role of African Americans in the world. Following college, Tim had hoped to find his footing in the private sector in Louisiana. Yet, after talking to family and a close mentor, Tim was inspired to move back to Mississippi where he felt he could have the most impact.
Once he returned, Tim began a consulting company and contracted work that had him directly engaging with the Mississippi public. In this role, Tim was able to work with Delta State University on a USDA grant, where he assisted business owners across five counties in the Mississippi Delta. This experience of “apprenticing with the problem” and learning all about the barriers and systemic flaws motivated him to apply for a development role at a local community development financial institute. During his time working at a local CDFI, Tim and his team distributed over one million dollars in funding for community-based projects related to tourism, housing, youth engagement, public safety, and arts/culture. After talking to community members and hearing stories from his fellow neighbors, Tim was inspired to create a small business program. While the CDFI (currently a HPC partner) didn’t initially see how this would be possible, Tim’s idea then became the blueprint for Higher Purpose Co. that would transform community wealth within the region.
Tim is inspired by and honored to serve Black entrepreneurs, farmers, and artists in the pursuit of economic justice, reparations, and building community wealth for current and future generations of rural residents. Tim has a deep contextual understanding of the Delta’s histories, people, and potential. Rather than abandoning it, he is determined to see it flourish. In a time when so many are told to leave for the city and coasts, Tim is opening a door for future generations to develop rural communities through the deep knowledge and power that they hold as residents.