OXFORD • When a think tank group posed the question of what he would do if he had the money to change one issue or problem in his community, Black entrepreneur Joseph Stinchcomb didn’t have to look far for inspiration.
Stinchcomb was one of five Oxford residents to receive a $5,000 Pebble Grant as part of Builders + Backers’ Idea Accelerator program, which provides funding, training and assistance to help entrepreneurs put ideas into action.
He knew exactly how he wanted to use that money: to bolster the underrepresented Black business population.
It’s all about equitable entrepreneurship, Stinchcomb said.
“Equitable entrepreneurship is a cornerstone of any thriving community. If there is no equitable community, then it’s not a community,” he said.
One example for Stinchcomb was the high percentage of unskilled labor performed by people of color in Oxford, despite being an affluent area. He saw inequity with how people who may work multiple jobs wouldn’t necessarily have the time to start, invest and grow their own businesses.
Last week, Stinchcomb used a portion of his grant to host a dinner at Saint Leo Restaurant. The goal: to start a conversation.
“Time is the most valuable resource we have, so if we don’t have time then the idea just dies,” Stinchcomb said.
Hosting the dinner, Stinchcomb said, helps shed a light on the work into which people of color are investing their time, money and passion.
“We need to put money to help it grow and flourish because these things are important to the community and how the community works at large,” he said.
His community involvement with Black entrepreneurship began with his grandfather, who was a World War II veteran and one of the first Black Marines in Montford Point, North Carolina, Stinchcomb said.
“When he came back after WWII, the community that he loved and the America he loved didn’t love him back," Stinchcomb said. "So, he built a house for him and his family and started giving back to the community, giving back specifically to the Black community, building houses, going to Chamber of Commerce, City Hall meetings, and standing up for people who didn’t have the means to stand up for themselves."
Seeing his grandfather put in the time to reinvest in the community taught him “reinvesting time and money into your community is always worth the effort” and makes everything better. He broke down the goal of having equitable entrepreneurship into three steps. The first was to identify the problem, with the next step finding ways to solve the problem and the third getting money so that Black entrepreneurs can be on the same footing and level as white entrepreneurs.
Stinchcomb identified Black entrepreneurs in Lafayette County by talking with friends and supporters, such as Yoknapatawpha Arts Council Executive Director Wayne Andrews. Builders + Backers also provided helpful resources to help him determine who to invite.
Through conversions with stakeholders, Stinchcomb determined it would be beneficial to allow Black entrepreneurs and other Lafayette County stakeholders to network and make connections, which he hopes will lead to people talking about the issues that exist in the community and how to solve them.
Around 30 participants attended the first dinner. He hopes to make the dinner quarterly to encourage more brainstorming and camaraderie to help the community grow.
“This isn’t just a one-man game,” he said. “You’re part of a family and if one of us succeeds, we all succeed. If one of us fails, we all fail, so we can all build each other and raise each other up with resources, mentorship, time, effort and money.”
Stinchcomb hopes the dinner propels future conversations that go deeper. He wants to follow up the dinner by getting investors in the room to help connect Black entrepreneurs to money.
“It’s fun to talk about, but until we get actual money exchanging hands, it’s just fluff,” Stinchcomb said.
Oxford’s Idea Accelerator is a partnership with Builders + Backers, Heartland Forward, Accenture, Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation and Chamber of Commerce, the City of Oxford, Lafayette County, Visit Oxford and the University of Mississippi. Other recipients include Andi Bedsworth, Tammy Herod, Stephen McDavid and Josh McGlawn.
According to a press release from Builders + Backers, Bedsworth will run a seamstress trade experiment for high schoolers. Herod will have a creative education program focused on entrepreneurship. McDavid will use a tool to encourage community support and engagement while also developing an alternative local economy model. McGlawn will experiment with creative ways to foster conversation that will build community and provide a positive outlet for tackling personal and shared challenges in contemporary society.
For Stinchcomb, the next step is to open his own business, Bar Muse, potentially in late September. After being the bar director at Saint Leo Restaurant since the early part of his hospitality journey, he felt it was natural to want to go out on his own. Bar Muse will be a cocktail bar located inside the Lyric in Oxford.
“I took that crazy step into stepping into nothing but an idea and a dream,” Stinchcomb said. “My grandfather did it, and if he can do it, being treated like a second class citizen, then I can do it with a college education.”