2022 Grants Challenge

Growing Equity, One Entrepreneur at a Time

Made by and for BIPOC women, the LEEAF Business Accelerator builds equity - both justice and wealth - one entrepreneur at a time. Our business Leaders join a lifelong network with tailored support enabling them to tackle financial, social, and personal barriers, seeding community revitalization as they rise to economic leadership. LEEAF Leaders bond during an intensive training year, matched with a dedicated Cal State LA student Fellow, and work through our alumni network to create jobs, opportunities, and equity throughout LA County.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

BIPOC- and Women-Owned Businesses

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

East LA

South LA

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not. Decades of disinvestment left communities of color without access to the basic resources to build wealth, leaving entrepreneurs struggling to attract the resources and support to thrive. BIPOC women have the talent and work ethic for broad economic leadership - 47% of businesses started by women since the pandemic are owned by BIPOC women - but significant obstacles stand in their way. 61% of businesses founded by Black women are self-funded and only 3% of mature businesses are run by Black women. Loan denial rates for small business owners of color are 3x higher than those of white owners, 42% to 16%. BIPOC women business leaders in South and East LA have the talent and drive to be engines of growth and wealth creation for families and communities but face financial, social, and personal barriers to achieving their dreams. LEEAF unites leaders to break these barriers, building equity one entrepreneur at a time.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

The LA2050 grant will enable LEEAF to equip 50 women of color business leaders as economic catalysts and community hubs through: 1) a 12-month intensive technical assistance program with training, advising, and access to capital that will promote growth, resiliency, and change; 2) 8 months of human capital from a vetted and trained Cal State LA Student Fellow; and 3) years of additional resources, funding, and networking as part of an active LEEAF alumni network of 150+ leaders. LEEAF’s unique capacity to deliver outcomes for business leaders comes from a program and leadership team that balances complementary strengths - practical expertise in business fundamentals, talent development, interpersonal empowerment, and academic expertise - to build inclusive economic systems at the grassroots level. We leverage the resources of program partners including the LA SBDC Network, local chambers of commerce, CDFIs, and specialty training partners to fuel the growth of underserved women entrepreneurs, amplified by the full backing of Cal State LA. In parallel with the direct program work, LEEAF conducts evaluation, research and public relations campaigns to inform the replication of similar programming, provide insights into the impact of women of color entrepreneurs, and ultimately to shift narratives around gender and race in entrepreneurship.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Launching the second cohort of 50 BIPOC women business Leaders will enable LEEAF to generate $2.5M in growth capital and create or retain at least 100 jobs, helping each business increase revenue by an average of 50%. Each LEEAF Leader joins a strong community with years of follow-on support not only to achieve individual success but to pursue the goal we share: making LA County a model of economic inclusion and equity for all. To this end, LEEAF equips Leaders not only to gain financial investments but also to break low expectations and model new roles community-wide. LEEAF works with banks and investors to bridge networks, shift policies, and create new resource flows to change the landscape of entrepreneurship. LEEAF's model brings together key players in multiple spaces - higher education, corporate, philanthropic, and economic development - to address historic inequalities and advance economic revitalization across the region.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

Measuring and optimizing impact is at the core of LEEAF's model. To date LEEAF Leaders have accessed over $4M dollars in capital, preserved 116 jobs and accessed over 1000 hours of technical training and 1:1 support. To build on this impact, Cal State LA faculty leverage expertise in qualitative and quantitative analysis to lead a dynamic evaluation system that captures economic impact in real time, tabulating weekly interviews with each cohort member to create an accurate, rapid portrait of personal and business growth for each small business in the cohort. This rapid evaluation system feeds into broadly published reports that assess program effects on revenue and job creation along with case studies highlighting the entrepreneurs in the cohort. In these reports, faculty track key indicators of job creation, capital access, business health, and personal wellness along with rigorous causal analysis that identifies the most effective elements of the program model.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 350

Indirect Impact: 600