According to Square’s CMO, Lauren Weinberg, the company wants to help level the playing field for Black and Latino retail entrepreneurs. Recently, Square announced the launch of Forward, a business accelerator program designed to help Black and Latino retail entrepreneurs get access to the capital, mentorship and ongoing support that they need to succeed. We asked Weinberg about these entrepreneurs’ challenges and how Square plans to support them.

There is a lot of talk in the retail industry about increasing diversity but much less discussion about empowering diverse founders and creators with capital. What is Square hoping to accomplish with this initiative?

Square’s corporate purpose is economic empowerment, and we believe all businesses should be able to participate and thrive in the economy. However, despite leading America’s entrepreneurial boom, Black and Latino businesses still face higher closure rates and have less access to the capital, mentorship, and professional business tools they need to thrive. Knowing that Square succeeds when our sellers succeed, Forward is designed to help reduce premature closures of Black and Brown businesses and is only one step in our ongoing commitment to increase equitable access to the economy for sellers of color. We hope to provide these businesses with the foundational tools and guidance fit for each of their unique business needs to set them up for long-term success truly. Square’s products have the power to help businesses automate their operations and create new revenue streams, and we hope these business owners are able to capitalize on this potential. 

The climate is tough for startups. What are some of the standout criteria that the organization/group is looking for when selecting a startup?

Starting and running a business is one of the most difficult and rewarding things a person can do. We’re excited to review applications and look forward to choosing applicants with clear and varied business ideas who are working hard to make them a reality. We have a minimal number of requirements we take into consideration when choosing applicable candidates for Forward, including: 

  • Businesses must be a part of the clothing & accessories, health & beauty, home goods & furniture, or food & beverage sectors
  • Companies must be founded by or have a current CEO who identifies as Black/African American or Latino
  • Businesses must be based in the U.S., have publicly launched, and be in the first three years of their operation (i.e., cannot be in alpha, beta, or stealth).
  • Businesses must report a gross revenue of between $25K – $500K
  • Must be existing Square sellers or willing to switch over to Square products

Forward is fronted by some huge names. How does that increase visibility around underrepresentation in the startup world?

We’re proud to have such incredible partners in our celebrity mentors, who are all successful entrepreneurs in their own rights and all share Square’s commitment to economic empowerment. As part of Forward by Square, we are confident that they will support and inspire our inaugural cohort of businesses, helping them overcome the unique challenges faced by underrepresented businesses. 

What about marketing? It can be challenging for new BIPOC creators/brands to find and connect with audiences. How can retail entrepreneurs build their brand at the very early stages?

It’s absolutely true that marketing is one of the biggest challenges faced by business owners of color. However, a recent Square survey of Hispanic entrepreneurs also pointed out that marketing is seen as an area of opportunity. As an early-stage startup, I recommend building your brand across your social channels first because it doesn’t cost anything to create a business account. However, it’s important to be mindful that consistent and authentic content is key, especially if your targets are digitally native consumers who prefer to shop on their mobile devices. Square’s powerful ecosystem of tools can help even the smallest businesses stay in touch with existing customers, reach out to new ones, and create loyalty programs to keep everyone coming back.