Seed At The Table is a mission-driven, equity crowdfunding platform committed to connecting diverse entrepreneurs with non-accredited investors looking to obtain equity or debt exposure at modest investment amounts. Emily Garman spoke with Suzen Baraka, Seed’s Chief Administrative Officer to learn how they are working with small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Watch Our Interview
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our interview.
Experian: Seed at the Table is a mission driven crowdfunding platform committed to connecting diverse entrepreneurs with investors. We’re talking today with one of the co-founders of Seed at the Table, Suzen Baraka. Suzen is a lawyer and an Emmy Award winning poet, writer, actor and activist, and is also a partner and the Chief Administrative Officer of Seed at the Table, primarily focused on legal and compliance.
Prior to Seed at the Table, Suzen was Vice President of Barclays Investment Banks Recovery and Resolution Planning—Americas as the Engagement Lead for both the U.S. and U.K. legal teams. Licensed to practice law in both New York and New Jersey, Suzen specializes in entertainment, intellectual property law and real estate law on the transactional side. Suzen, it’s such a privilege to be talking to you today. Welcome to the Small Business Matters podcast.
Suzen Baraka: Thank you. Thank you for having me. So glad to be here.
Experian: Well, tell us about Seed at the Table. What makes it different from all the other crowdfunding sites out there?
Suzen Baraka: Well, right now there are about between 60 and 70 or so SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) and FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) licensed equity crowdfunding platforms. And only about three or four of those platforms are specifically geared towards people of color, marginalized individuals, founders who struggle to access capital, whether it be because of lack of financial literacy, lack of knowledge, lack of network. So what we try to do is really bridge that gap by connecting with founders of color and also with accredited and unaccredited investors in our community.
Experian: Can you tell me about the difference between an accredited and a non-accredited investor? I heard you say that and I’m curious about it.
Suzen Baraka: So an accredited investor is someone who makes more than $200,000 a year, or if they’re in a couple, more than $300,000, and has made that amount for the prior two years and can reasonably expect to make that for the same current year. Also, they would have a net worth of at least $1,000,000 excluding real estate assets. On the flip side, non-accredited investors are anyone who fails to satisfy those requirements And this is basically because people who don’t necessarily make that income or have that net worth are deemed by the SEC to be worthy of protection from making risky investments.
Experian: So what made you want to get involved with a Seed at the Table?
Suzen Baraka: First and foremost, my mother is an entrepreneur. I grew up watching her build her business from the ground up. I think that in a lot of ways I sort of embody that same spirit and I have that same sense of bravery. So I have a soft spot for entrepreneurs, particularly entrepreneurs of color. My mom’s Korean, I’m Korean and black. At the same time, however, it is so difficult for people of color to access capital because of what we call the racial funding gap. Right now in this country we have black women being the leading demographic of new founders. And I would say black founders probably only receive 1.3% of venture capital funding.
At the same token, with respect to small business loans, I think white (male) founders usually receive around 58% of the loans they ask for at traditional banking institutions. And then black founders usually get loans about 29% of the time. And when they do receive loans, those loans are less than what they asked for. More often than not.
Experian: So this idea that people might have of, well, if you want to start a business, just go to a bank and get a loan, that is not accessible equally for all people?
Suzen Baraka: That is correct.
Experian: Yeah. That leads me to think if black business owners, black entrepreneurs, particularly black women entrepreneurs, could get access to the funding they needed, how do you think that could change the world?
Suzen Baraka: Let’s be honest. Women are often the caregivers in their homes. Women of color, specifically, are often the heads of their households. They’re often the breadwinners. And let me also add that black women in particular, are the most highly educated demographic in this country. So if black women are the most highly educated demographic in this country, and yet receive the least amount of capital access when starting their businesses, and yet are still the leading demographic that are starting these businesses, then clearly, number one, there’s a huge disparity that needs to be addressed. I think that providing capital access to people of color, to founders of color, especially founders that are, like I said, highly educated, incredibly resourceful, are the heads of their households, are the breadwinners in their household–I think that providing these individuals with capital access is in many ways revolutionary. And for that reason, I feel like equity crowdfunding is revolutionary, because we are decentralizing the way that we think about access and capital.
Experian: Yeah, that’s really something to think about. So in that vein, any success stories you’d like to share?
Suzen Baraka: I would say that overall, Seed at the Table is a success story in and of itself. We’ve raised $1.3 million in less than a year for businesses that are founded by women, people of color. And these are businesses that highlight marginalized voices–businesses like Row House Publishing, which is a New York-based, Harlem-based publishing company that seeks to disrupt the way the publishing industry works and really focuses on black health and wellness. We also had a successful raise with Oya, which is a fitness brand that’s geared towards paying attention to how women’s athletic wear can be can be revolutionized in order to serve women’s bodies.
These companies that we’re choosing are incredibly thoughtful. And because of that, I think that the public is responding, and we’re seeing that their raises have been incredibly successful, and they’re allowing their customer base to invest back into their businesses, which I think is really great and kind of fun. It’s like, if you are someone who likes to go to the gym, and you wear Oya products to the gym, now you get to own a piece of that company. And I think that’s an incredible phenomenon.
Experian: It’s empowering.
Suzen Baraka: Yeah, definitely.
Experian: So if an entrepreneur is listening and they think that their business might benefit from being a part of Seed at the Table, what qualifies them to use the Seed at the Table service? How can they find out more and how do they get started?
Suzen Baraka: Well, first they can follow us on Instagram @seedatthetable. That is our handle across all social media, across all social media channels. They can also find us at www.seedatthetable.com. They can register as a user and reach out to us, and then we can send them an application link if they’re interested. And then from there, we have what we call a Seed Family, which is sort of a council of different professionals across various industries. Thirty plus individuals who are highly skilled experts in their particular subject matters. And we consult with our family to decide whether or not we should onboard a particular company. So they go through a very rigorous application and vetting process. But that’s, of course, because we again are regulated by the SEC and FINRA, so we want to make sure that we’re doing our due diligence.
Experian: I love that idea of a family because it means you’re not doing this alone. You know, it’s a family business. You have a family backing you and supporting you. And that’s wonderful. Well, Suzen thank you so much for all the work you’re doing in the world, all the good that you’re putting out there. And thanks for taking the time to be with us here today. We really appreciate it. And good luck with a Seed at the Table and everything else you’ve got going on.
Suzen Baraka: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
- Bridging the Black Founders Venture Capital Gap, by Kathryn Ross and Tom Lounibos, for Accenture
Accessed 03/08/2022 at https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-172/Accenture-Bridging-Black-Founders-VC-Gap.pdf
- Lending Discrimination During COVID-19: Black and Hispanic Women-Owned Businesses, by Anneliese Lederer and Sara Oros, for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, accessed 03/08/22 at https://ncrc.org/lending-discrimination-during-covid-19-black-and-hispanic-women-owned-businesses/