321 Coffee in Raleigh, North Carolina has a mission. Well, maybe two missions.
One is to serve their caffeinated elixir to their customers at the North Carolina State Farmers Market. After all, nothing beats a delicious, eye-opening latte or cappuccino while you’re picking out some fresh fruits and vegetables on a Saturday morning, planning the evening meal.
But 321 Coffee has another purpose. Founded by Lindsay Wrege and Michael Evans, the company was created to give people with Down Syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) meaningful employment.
The coffee shop employs 21 adults, paying them well above minimum wage. These jobs not only help to build equity for people with IDD but the jobs also give them the purpose and independence that comes with having a job – something that many of us take for granted.
Heart of the Community
I strongly believe that small businesses, like 321 Coffee and countless others, are the heart of their communities. I see this being true in at least two ways.
First, small businesses provide the economic heartbeat of their cities and towns, driving the flow of commerce and capital, sustaining livelihoods and providing vital services.
But maybe more important than that, small businesses serve as the heart of their communities in terms of their compassion, empathy and humanity. More often than not, their work comes from a place of love, and they treat their customers, suppliers and even competitors as friends and neighbors.
People start small businesses for all kinds of reasons. Some do it because they see a need in their community. Or they have a passion or a talent for what they do and want to make a go of it. Or they are continuing the work of previous generations.
However, not all small businesses have expertise in technology and IT. In most cases additional resources are needed to hire IT experts to help them compete in today’s digital world.
But increasingly, businesses of all sizes need technological solutions to run their operations, manage their employees, attract business, and provide great customer experiences. Such a high level of sophistication is becoming less and less attainable for many small businesses, and that puts the heart of our communities at risk.
And that was before the pandemic.
Doing Our Part
Whatever challenges small businesses faced, the COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent lockdowns, magnified them.
During the lockdowns, many businesses shut their doors for good. The ones that did survive had to dig deep to stay afloat.
The pandemic hit minority-owned businesses especially hard. Black and Hispanic-owned businesses had trouble securing credit, either from loans or from investors, resulting in closings at disproportionate levels compared to White-owned companies.
At the same time, the pandemic has accelerated the need for digital transformation. Employees are working from home. Supply chains are becoming more complex. And customers expect seamless online and in-person experiences.
The need for small businesses to adopt technology and digitize their operations has never been greater. But it comes at a time when it’s never been more difficult.
That’s why I’m so proud to announce Lenovo’s Evolve Small initiative, a partnership with Microsoft and Intel.
Evolve Small is a campaign focused on providing relief to small businesses recovering from the impact of COVID-19 in cities across North America.
That support will be coming in three forms:
- $1,000,000 worth of grants and development to fuel the growth of minority-owned small businesses.
- Consulting and guidance to help small businesses leverage technology to evolve and grow their companies.
- Rally broad support for small businesses through key partnerships, advocacy, and promotional campaigns at the local and national levels.
Small businesses have provided opportunities, stimulated commerce in their community and fostered communities. They are who will drive the global economic recovery. They’ve navigated some unprecedented challenges, and it’s our turn to support them. Any way we can.
So, keep an eye out for more information about the Lenovo Evolve Small initiative to learn how to support your local small businesses. They’ve done so much for our communities over the years. Now it’s our turn to show up and support them.