The Brooklyn Nets’ Social Justice Fund (SJF), an initiative that received a 10-year, $50 million commitment from the team’s owner, Joe Tsai, is taking its first steps.
The Joe and Clara Wu Tsai Foundation has announced a program called EXCELerate, which will loan $2.5 million to Brooklyn small businesses. To support this, the Tsais have forged partnerships with two community development financial institutions—Brooklyn Alliance Capital and TruFund Financial—and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. The loans of up to $100,000 aim to help Brooklyn’s BIPOC business owners regain what was lost during the pandemic. Loans less than $15,000 will come at 0% interest, while the loans over that mark will carry 2% interest. With its $2.5 million commitment, the SJF hopes to aid between 110 and 120 businesses in Brooklyn.
“We really want to address as many systemic issues as possible,” Clara Wu Tsai said in an interview. “With an eye to that and also hearing that black businesses closed at twice the rate as white businesses during the pandemic, I saw a real opportunity.” Citing a New York Fed study unveiled last year, Wu Tsai was troubled that an estimated 41% of black-owned businesses shut down between February and April, compared to only 17% of white businesses that were forced to close their doors.
“We want to work on problems in Brooklyn that have national relevance, [and] we’ve just committed to working in the intersection of economic mobility and racial justice,” she said.
To steer the ship, Wu Tsai hired Gregg Bishop to the chief post at the Social Justice Fund. Bishop, a Brooklyn native, was the interim executive director of Coro New York Leadership Center, a civic organization that fosters diverse talent across New York City’s five boroughs. Before Coro, he served as commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services, where he was able to direct more than $200 million to small businesses and certify a record 9,000 minority and women business enterprises.
The Social Justice Fund is making all loans character-based, meaning that applicants will be reviewed through the lens of references provided by local community members on their behalf. They will also only be available to those with credit scores negatively affected by the pandemic and will not require collateral or a guarantor, providing meaningful assistance to those who might otherwise find it difficult or impossible to obtain capital.
“All we’re asking for is a viable business,” said Bishop in an interview. “We’re going to ask you what you need the money for and how you intend to use it. And we’re going to ask you to find someone in the community to vouch for your business….
“Clara has been very intentional about not only providing support for the community but involving the community,” Bishop added. “What we’re trying to encourage is keeping that $2.5 million investment circulating within the black community in Brooklyn.”
To help people become aware of the opportunity, the SJF will deploy the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s street team to spread the word throughout the borough. So far, Bishop says they’ve already identified 80 businesses eligible for a loan.
“Brooklyn is coming back, but there is no recovery without the equitable recovery of the borough’s small BIPOC businesses,” Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “As an institution that focuses on providing access to capital for Brooklyn’s BIPOC-owned businesses, we are deeply committed to Gregg’s success, and grateful for this additional resource for Brooklyn’s entrepreneurs.”