Ke’Nekt Cooperative Backs Atlanta’s Black Businesses

Posted September 15, 2022, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Ke'Nekt building in Atlanta

Ke’Nekt Coop­er­a­tive ― a retail incu­ba­tor — con­nects and sup­ports south­west Atlanta’s Black busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty. The coop­er­a­tive helps these busi­ness­es and their com­mu­ni­ty part­ners give back to the neigh­bor­hood. With fund­ing from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, Ke’Nekt’s tar­get­ed finan­cial and tech­ni­cal assis­tance to aid Black-owned busi­ness­es expe­ri­enc­ing hard times and encour­ages civic engage­ment among those who live and work in the area.

Cre­at­ing the Cooperative

Ke’Nekt Coop­er­a­tive co-founder Kiy­o­mi Rollins describes cre­at­ing the orga­ni­za­tion as her per­son­al super­hero ori­gin sto­ry.” In 2019, Rollins and Ke’Nekt co-founder Mark Eschoe were man­ag­ing a nat­ur­al hair and skin care shop in Atlanta’s West­view neighborhood.

What we found was that Black-owned, small busi­ness­es like ours were rou­tine­ly exclud­ed from impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions about devel­op­ment and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion that were hap­pen­ing in our own back­yard,” says Rollins. On top of that, many of the long­stand­ing, brick-and-mor­tar busi­ness­es in our neigh­bor­hood were clos­ing or find­ing them­selves at risk for evic­tion or dis­place­ment.” The duo decid­ed it was time to act to reverse these trends. After acquir­ing a long-term land lease, they put their exist­ing busi­ness on hold and launched Ke’Nekt.

Keep­ing Busi­ness­es Afloat Dur­ing Tough Times

Thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Casey Foun­da­tion, Ke’Nekt aid­ed 10 local busi­ness­es in its first year. This fund­ing proved crit­i­cal when the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic began, harm­ing the sta­bil­i­ty of small busi­ness­es across the Unit­ed States. Accord­ing to Ke’Nekt, 90% of these busi­ness­es remained open through­out the pan­dem­ic and are still in oper­a­tion today.

Rollins notes that Ke’Nekt began by focus­ing on help­ing long­stand­ing busi­ness­es launch dig­i­tal store­fronts and ser­vices. The orga­ni­za­tion also pro­vid­ed its first cohort of busi­ness owners:

  • lap­top computers;
  • assis­tance with online appli­ca­tions for busi­ness loans and finan­cial aid; and
  • resources to fos­ter a bet­ter under­stand­ing of finan­cial planning. 

To help address the root caus­es of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and dis­place­ment, Rollins and Eschoe worked with com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to encour­age more engage­ment in local elec­tions and greater par­tic­i­pa­tion in how the com­mu­ni­ty uses its pub­lic bud­get. This enabled res­i­dents to have a larg­er role in impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions that affect their lives and liveli­hoods. Among the com­mu­ni­ty aid events Ke’Nekt has held dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, one food give­away served more than 850 area families.

Look­ing to the Future

For Ke’Nekt’s sec­ond cohort, the incu­ba­tor will sup­port 20 busi­ness­es with fund­ing from a $40,000 grant from the Casey Foundation.

The Ke’Nekt Coop­er­a­tive has been a valu­able part­ner in the Foundation’s work sup­port­ing young peo­ple and fam­i­lies in south­west Atlanta,” says Ade Ogun­toye, a senior asso­ciate with Casey’s Atlanta Civic Site. It is not only com­mit­ted to the suc­cess of Black small busi­ness own­ers in its com­mu­ni­ty but the over­all eco­nom­ic health of the com­mu­ni­ty itself.”

The Coop­er­a­tive expects to final­ly open the doors to its phys­i­cal offices and pro­vide in-per­son sup­port to busi­ness own­ers in south­west Atlanta soon. Look­ing fur­ther ahead, Rollins hopes to cre­ate a mod­el that can be expand­ed to oth­er com­mu­ni­ties where busi­ness­es have as a result of inequity, dis­place­ment and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn More About How Casey Sup­ports Black-owned Busi­ness­es in Atlanta

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