Everyone knows it takes a village to raise a child. But it also takes a village to help small businesses, especially Black-owned businesses, succeed.
Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon created a quarterly event in Atlanta called The Village Market ATL to do just that. Her market allows Black vendors to sell their products as well as network with other business owners. Hallmon also hosts monthly master classes on entrepreneurship and community development and she holds free master classes on financial literacy and entrepreneurship development to serve as a launch pad for entrepreneurs.
The social entrepreneur, curator, speaker, and educator created The Village Market ATL in spring 2016. The last Village Market had more than 70 vendors and now Dr. Hallmon is gearing up for the next market, planned for July 21st. Here she tells us how she plans to take the Village Market nationwide.
MadameNoire (MN): How did you come up with the Village Market concept?
Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon (LH): The concept of The Village Market ATL developed two years before its actual launch. I would have snapshot visions of the market and could, in a sense, feel the atmosphere of it. After I finished my EdD, I began to intentionally focus on developing and actualizing the visions that I had while working on my dissertation. January 2016, I started hosting master classes through a series I called “It Takes A Village.” The classes focused on entrepreneurship development, financial literacy, women’s empowerment, etc. They were well received, and as we gained momentum from the community, the vision of the Village Market got clearer. Suddenly, I had built a village of entrepreneurs, novice and seasoned, who all needed two things–exposure and opportunity. So I desired to create a space where the village would gather, learn, share resources selflessly to help build our community.
MN: It seems like a major undertaking, where were some initial challenges?
LH: Initial challenges were funding and connecting with strategic partners. We did not have proof of concept and at that time, having a night time event, a 100% plant-based market that brought awareness and exposure to Black-owned businesses, seemed very limiting when it came to reaching a broader audience. When we would have business meetings to attract potential sponsors, they felt the event was commendable but were not sold on its potential impact.
MN: How did you fund the startup?
LH: I started the business through bootstrapping and also soliciting the support of my friends and family. I drafted a proposal, shared my intentions and purpose for The Village Market and from there, my friends and family selflessly donated to the launch of The Village Market ATL.
MN: How did you convince vendors it would be a great place to sell their wares?
LH: What helped us attract vendors was the reputation of quality and substance that the “It Takes A Village” series possessed. We garnered a level of “street cred” for excellence through those classes, and as mentioned, our audience was primarily entrepreneurs. When we made the all-call (without an IG platform, Facebook, or a website) we were able to contact the business owners who we had already developed a relationship with, from either the master classes or our workshops. Because we had established relationships and a solid reputation, it was not difficult to attract vendors. However, we were excited and incredibly humbled every time someone registered for the first event.
MN: I understand you started out hosting monthly master classes in entrepreneurship and community development.
LH: I am a former high school educator who apparently cannot stop teaching. The visions of my “It Takes A Village” series excited me. I could see people gathering to learn in a forthcoming and safe space. I developed the series, like everything else, because I saw a vision and a need. I am very fortunate to share community with incredible people who helped me develop the master classes, either as speakers or business owners who provided me space to host the classes.
Our first class featured entrepreneurs from different backgrounds. They all have been hugely successful in their field. I felt they would be able to provide tangible resources and trustworthy advice to upcoming entrepreneurs.
MN: Why did you feel The Village was necessary?
LH: The concept and the symbolism of The Village are deeply rooted in our ancestry. I’ve been cognizant of the type of work that I am created to do. I’ve never had a vision that did not include The Village. Two years ago, I felt an urgency to build a village that was all-encompassing, inclusive that encouraged us to selflessly support each other with our time and resources. I know the impact of group economics and collectively channeling our energy to support our people. We must find refuge and support among each other. The African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child” is a proverb which means that it takes an entire community of different people interacting with children for children to experience and grow in a safe environment. I developed this concept to be an all-call for more than children but our/the Black community.
MN: Why did you decide to hire only women of color?
LH: Women of color are still grossly underrepresented in many business spectrums. While we have made significant strides, we still face unique employment barriers. It was critical for me to create a space for women artists, photographers, content developers, techies because there’s a consistent opportunity gap. Quite frankly, I am surrounded by exceptional black women and women of color; I understand the importance of building side-by-side. If the Village gains exposure, such as this, simultaneously, the villagers gain exposure.
It then becomes advantageous–within a moment, women of color can go from overlooked to overbooked. That’s what I work towards!
MN: The Village is now two years old, how have you grown?
LH: We have grown significantly. Our first market welcomed 33 business owners and roughly 500 guests. We are now showcasing 80 to 100 small businesses from metro-Atlanta, various states, and a few countries sprinkled in. At our February market, we had close to 3,000 guests attend. Growth has been the most significant change for us. We’ve been able to add, what’s hugely meaningful to me, our programming between our markets.
Our social media presence has grown significantly, and we intentionally use the platform to continue to showcase small businesses but to also serve as a space to discuss holistic practices that are needed for small business owners. We are extremely proud of the additional events we have added- “HER Village,” “HIS Village,” “UNSTUCK,” “Village Bistro,” the “Village Come Up Clinics” and releasing our “Support Is A Verb” campaign.
MN: What business lessons have you learned?
LH: The most prominent lessons I have learned is to nurture relationships, delegate, and let go.
The Village Market is my baby, and I had to learn that it’s not an infant that I had to hold so close and protect at every moment. Personally, learning to allow other contributors and visionaries to come in to help nurture The Village has been tremendous. It was not easy though, and I continue to grow in this area.
Delegation has been a lifesaver. I am naturally a worker and have high expectations for excellence and output. I have learned to continue to raise the bar for success but to also be gentler with myself if business relationships do not advance or dissolve. I have also learned to leave room for error, which helps me not to be consumed by mistakes.
From the business side, it has been helpful to me not to hire so quickly and to develop more of a three-month evaluation plan. With excitement and exposure, it can attract great people and also people whose most significant interest is capitalizing on the success of the company. By being more intentional and allowing the course of relationship to develop over time, I have experienced more significant business partners.
MN: What are your long-term goals for the Village?
LH: National expansion and becoming a hub of support for the community, black-owned businesses, women-owned businesses and kidpreneurs. We will be a credible resource for opportunity and exposure on a national level. We will be a hub for health and disruptive unrepresented places. We will also be a hub that is inclusive of all Black people and people of color who believe in the collective. Next up, we are hitting the road to take The Village on tour. City by city, we will grow our village and make #supportisaverb its theme.