Written by: Jascity Hutchison
My journey with JUST began when I connected with CEO Steve Wanta through the University of Texas, McCombs School of Business MBA+ program. I was drawn to the organization immediately after my initial conversation with Steve and my research into their mission, the clients they serve and their $1M COVID-19 pledge. My task? To lead JUST’s new market growth strategy that focused on the expansion of their current user base to add Black entrepreneurs.
In the beginning, I immersed myself into the virtual world of learning about JUST operations, culture and clients. One of the first things I remember learning was the exercise of design thinking and its practical application to visualize our thoughts. The team mapped out what we wanted to learn from interviews with Black female entrepreneurs. This was our target audience, so we needed to understand their hopes, dreams, fears, opportunities and constraints.
The interview process started out rocky for me. The JUST team connected me with their existing Black clients, but I had to source more. I connected with and interviewed the Association for Enterprise Opportunity Tapestry Project’s cohort members. I learned about their organizations’ client demographics, outreach strategies, loan sizes, and approval rates. From their conversations, it became clear that you must look like the community you serve.
I brought this back to JUST, and while it was no surprise to my team, I believe it highlighted the fact that after my contract ended, there would be no Black employees on payroll. We unanimously agreed that our next Community Director must be a Black woman if we really want to serve Black female entrepreneurs.
In the second phase of my contract, I supported JUST’s newly launched Bank Action Committee, a design-thinking program for bank employees to learn about and support JUST. I facilitated discussions among the participants and felt encouraged by their earnest desire to help JUST. While there were times where I was unsure of my impact because I was not on the “front lines” building up these female entrepreneurs, the Bank Action Committee drove home the important work I was doing.
In the last phase of my work with JUST, I was tasked with contacting corporations that pledged financial support to Black businesses in the wake of the George Floyd murder and rallying cry of racial injustice. For every company that responded, there were ten companies that did not. But, as these companies begin to execute on their impact strategies, I believe JUST will benefit from these new initiatives because of their commitment to the Black female entrepreneur community.
My journey was not a straight line, but I believe I grew as a person. I feel humbled by the success stories of other Black women and motivated to raise my hand at every opportunity to lend my skills.
Jascity Hutchinson served JUST as a project consultant and is currently a Special Advisor for the Department of Justice.