According to the National Black Chamber of Commerce, there are more than 1 million black-owned businesses in the United States. Chances are that many of those enterprises have benefited from the wealth of resources that are dedicated to helping African-American-owned companies flourish. Equally likely is that some black business owners haven’t taken full advantage of the help that’s available. If you fall into the latter category, you’re missing out on a number of valuable resources that can help you grow your business. What can you gain from tapping into these resources? Expand your network of customers, suppliers and other business contacts Gain access to low-cost loans that are earmarked for minority-owned businesses Inspire and encourage the next generation of African-American entrepreneurs Get funded There are a number of businesses and government agencies that lend money to companies that are past the start-up stage and owned by African-Americans and other minorities. Some lenders will also help you become certified as a minority business-a prerequisite to getting financial assistance from most of these organizations. Federal government grants at Grants.gov. The Minority Business Development Agency provides links to information about grants that are available from state governments. Wells Fargo’s African American Business Services program and Bank of America’s Minority and Women Pre-qualification Program have been lauded for their track record in helping minority-owned businesses obtain loans for working capital, equipment and other uses. Join the National Minority Business Council and you could qualify for a short-term loan for working capital. Another route to consider is venture capital funding. Venture capitalists tend to have high expectations for a healthy return on their investments in growing companies, but they provide hands-on help in nurturing your product or service. Minority Business Roundtable Venture Capital Fund specializes in funding early-stage minority businesses. Keep your business humming How strategic is your strategic business plan? Is this the right time to hire new employees? Get advice from the experts on these and other business issues. Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) provides a truckload of services and information to help you launch and manage your enterprise. Get in-person assistance from business specialists at one of MBDA’s regional resource centers. Bid on contracts for minority-owned businesses Government agencies and private companies routinely award contracts to certified minority-owned businesses. Get in touch with organizations that can help you stay on top of contract announcements. SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program. Companies that are deemed small and disadvantaged can bid on Federal and non-Federal limited-competition contracts. The National Minority Business Council helps you become certified by the U.S. Small Business Administration to bid on U.S. government contracts. It also alerts members when request-for-proposal (RFP) and contract opportunities arise, and offers help in negotiating contracts. Major corporations such as AT&T and Daimler Chrysler are also on the lookout for minority-owned companies who can supply goods and services. The National Minority Supplier Development Council’s regional councils will certify your business as a minority-owned company and find corporations interested in what you sell. Connect with new business contacts The demands of running a business can leave with you little time to network. It can also leave you isolated from the business world outside of your industry-a world that could help you expand your own enterprise. Not all organizations define "minority owned" in the same way. Before applying for business funds or bidding on contracts that are intended for minority-owned companies, make sure you fit the organization's ownership criteria. It can be risky to borrow from family members to finance a business, but many successful companies got their start with loans from Mom or Uncle Joe. If you decide to go that route, keep it professional. Provide your lender with your financial projections and put your agreement in writing. Networking doesn't have to take place in a meeting room. These days, more African-American business owners are linking up with each other on the golf course. Enjoying a shared interest in a relaxed atmosphere makes networking easier and often more effective.