The Small Business Route out of Poverty

Raheim Watson grew up in Harlem, New York, surrounded by drugs and violence but decided he wanted a different life when his son was born. He moved to Richmond in 2014, where he has purchased a home, the first one in his family to do so, and started his own business. His window washing business is focused on the residential and small-commercial market.
Raheim Watson grew up in Harlem, New York, surrounded by drugs and violence but decided he wanted a different life when his son was born. He moved to Richmond in 2014, where he has purchased a home, the first one in his family to do so, and, with help from UnBoundRVA, started his own business. His window-washing business is focused on the residential and small-commercial market.

by James A. Bacon

UnBoundRVA is my kind of anti-poverty initiative! The organization identifies people in low-income neighborhoods who have the potential to succeed as small business owners, and then provides them a year of training, advice and networking support as they develop a business plan.

Once the business models are in place, each hopeful business owner makes a pitch for startup capital from a collective pool of $100,000 in low-interest loans. UnBoundRVA then connects the businesses with partners who provide pro bono services in areas such as legal, accounting, marketing and banking.

UnBoundRVA made it into the news recently when the Richmond Times-Dispatch highlighted a $20,000 donation to the group by Pat Hull, the entrepreneur behind logistics apps and “Your dream may not be the next Google. But who cares, if you are supporting your family and creating jobs?”

The not-for-profit enterprise was founded by Sarah Mullens and Richard Luck, who met while teaching in the inner city as part of the Teach for America program. They saw a large number of talented individuals who weren’t pursuing a college track for reasons that had nothing to do with ability or work ethic. “We believe that potential is restricted by the forces of the poverty cycle, and that the human capital of these individuals is our nation’s greatest underutilized asset,” states the UnBoundRVA website.

High-potential individuals in the current class, which will finish in June, are pursuing businesses in the following areas: clean-up services for construction projects, a mobile auto detailing service, a professional house organizing and redesign service, vegan cookies, and a mobile virtual reality gaming experience.

Bacon’s bottom line: Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and you feed him for his life. In contrast to so many leftist-inspired “social justice” programs that don’t even feed a man for a day — they teach him to march and protest until someone gives him a fish — UnBoundRVA teaches people to fish. It may not provide a systemic cure for poverty, a goal that has eluded this nation despite the expenditure of trillions of dollars in public and philanthropic anti-poverty programs over the years, but it can make a tremendous difference to the people whose lives it touches.

If you want to address the “root causes” of poverty, you have to change the lives of people one individual at a time. UnBoundRVA does that.

That said, it’s not clear from the website if UnBoundRVA is a cost-effective way to address poverty. The program has an annual budget of $268,000, supporting a staff of four full-time employees and one part-time. How many people does it help with that annual investment? According to the website, UnBoundRVA collects the names of individuals interested in starting their own business, enrolls twelve candidates in a six-week workshop and selects the five most promising for a one-year program of business support. The website does not say how many times it runs through this cycle each year. If only once, not so good. If eight or nine times, helping 40 or more people, that’s more defensible. One thing I do believe: It’s a model worth trying.

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6 responses to “The Small Business Route out of Poverty”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: “leftist” ideas

    you can’t teach a man to fish in today’s economy if he did not graduate from high school or he did but had a symbolic diploma.

    how does that happen without “leftist” policies?

    if someone cannot read and write and do simple math – you can’t “teach” them to operate a business – even a simple one like window washing… you cannot begin to understand the fundamentals of profit and loss and simple accounting principles if you do not have a basic education.

    so tell me how you’d do that without “leftist” approaches?

    you seem to think there are well educated people standing around needing help about how to go about setting up a business.

    I think folks on the right live in an imaginary world sometimes.. worse than “leftists” do!!!

  2. >>”if someone cannot read and write and do simple math – you can’t “teach” them to operate a business”

    –First off, you cease the leftist policy that all teachers in the schools are equal, that seniority should govern, that the bad teachers can’t be fired without the school system spending 10’s of thousands defending lawsuits that arise because leftist policies protect those teachers; you cease the leftist policies with respect to protecting public schools and the grossly incompetent from free market competition, you throw out teachers (and there are many in the Richmond Public School system) who cannot or will not speak the King’s English.

    That would be a start, Larry. Would you like me to go on?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Crazy – do you live in Virginia? do you know that teachers get fired all the time?

      but yes -you can go on – do you acknowledge that people without an education are not likely to be “helped” to start a small business?

      where do you think the guy they DID help – get his education? do you think it was provided to him by “bad” teachers in a bad public school?

      you guys live in LA LA LAND> you argue against public schools then you pretend that someone who is going to be “helped” to do a small business is somehow – miraculously “educated”.

      how does that “work”?

      1. Larry, people like Crazy and me agree that everyone in the U.S. needs an education. We don’t agree that they need a “public” education. Your starting proposition is that the “public” education is sacrosanct, regardless of whether it works or not.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    not my staring proposition. I’m FINE with competition that is just as accountable for results.

    what have you gained with the free market approach if the results are no better or worse?

    why do you advocate that without stipulations that it perform?

    can you name any countries that do this ?

    you guys want a different approach but you don’t want accountability and you don’t seem to care if the outcome ends up worse.

    you say everyone should have an education. Do you have standards for what it should be or is it a “generic”?

    what kind of a position wants the change but does not care if the outcome is worse?

    how is that a better approach?

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    The problem with Jim and Crazy’s approach is that they claim that the free market is the antidote to problems with govt public sector policies.

    ” … protecting public schools and the grossly incompetent from free market competition”

    but neither of them ever really explain HOW they will actually work better , not have their own flaws and shortcomings – and provide a better outcome.

    how would the free market itself get rid of bad teachers. how would they even know what teachers were bad to start with unless they had some way to measure performance and success and how do you really measure that if you’re only taking the easier to educate anyhow? Even the public schools do fine with the easier-to-educate.

    none of those things seems to matter because their advocacy treats the free market as if it were some kind of magic potion – that does not need to be explained nor held accountable – on the same or equivalent basis as public schools are.

    And it’s not like we don’t already know how the “free-market” – “works” with retired military education vouchers. It’s a horror story of more than a few people being fleeced out of their benefits and not having the education they should have gotten so they can compete for a job.

    Education has NEVER been the province of the free market in the first place. we have 200+ countries and hundreds of years of a living laboratory that would have generated successful countries with high literacy rates as a result of the free market – with no need for govt-operated schools.

    where are those countries that evolved successfully with free market education?

    I do not see how the free market is going to deal with tougher problems that public education is dealing with and that is kids whose parents are uneducated and poor as a consequence – themselves. And we act like this is the fault of the parents and that the kids deserve to not be educated … imagine how this country would have evolved if we had that same attitude towards uneducated farmers with kids?

    how does the “free market” fix that? Why DIDN’T the free market spring up to address education instead of public schools formed? was there not a single place in the US where the free market in the absence of any education – started up on it’s own and negated the need to form public schools in the first place?

    then Jim FURTHER totally misunderstands HOW the free market actually does work with respect to people forming small businesses – in that free market!

    he ASSUMES as a starting point that the young man has a good enough basic education that he CAN be taught how to do accounting and business principles.

    but if fellow has a basic education – why is he in need of “help” beyond the free market – any more than anyone else who also have a basic education?

    why makes him in need of “help” beyond the free market at that point any more or less than anyone else with a similar equivalent basic education? And why would that young man – not attend a true free market business school – especially if he had money to buy a house?

    I’m trying to understand what seems to be blind ideology that cannot explain itself other than claim some magical properties and call others “leftists”.

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