ST. PETERSBURG – There was very little leadership during Tahisia Scantling’s childhood on 13th Avenue and Melrose Street. For a young African-American girl living in a poor neighborhood, having a role model was very challenging.
That obstacle didn’t stop Scantling from growing up and making a difference. She created an enterprise called Crossroads Consulting, and it’s the coordinator of the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corp’s CATCH small business program.
Scantling aims to provide economic empowerment to minority companies that want to do business with the government, municipalities or large corporations but don’t know where to start.
Her ultimate goal is to be able to be a change agent and to help people who, because of their gender or race, have to confront more difficulties along the road.
Scantling herself is familiar with facing obstacles based on her race. As a business banker, none of her clients were black. She was often the only African American in the office, but the challenges that came with that didn’t stop her.
The CATCH coordinator and independent business consultant learned to adapt and enjoyed being the “only” black person.
“I tell my kids all the time, ‘there is no such thing as I can’t.’ We are in control of our destiny,” she said.
Working as a contracting officer, Scantling realized that she needed to do something else. The statistics showed her that disparities were prevalent in the industry. That’s when she decided to get a master’s degree in government contracts and administration.
She used her knowledge to help other minority companies to compete for government contracts and have the opportunity to win.
She also realized that the owners of small, minority businesses tend to have more difficulties approaching governmental agencies that, in fact, offer help to these types of companies. Scantling hopes that her company will be an alternative for them to be able to have access to the bureaus.
Classes in the CATCH small business program are filled with women eager to improve. Nine out of ten participants tend to be female.
For Scantling, women are a little bit more advanced. Men are the majority in businesses, but they lack ability in the structure part.
“They don’t do it as well. We’re working on developing something that will focus on men. They have different challenges than the ones faced by women,” she said. “There is a very strong need for services for African-American men.”
Scantling considers the little availability of mentors as one of the challenges faced by minority communities in the United States. There’s a need of having successful people coming back to their neighborhoods and sharing their experiences, struggles and successes.
There’s also a need for networking.
It is difficult for minorities to establish a professional network of contacts. Black people do not do the same type of networking that some of the other races can do. A lot of the minority business owners don’t have the same connections with some of those higher CEOs.
The challenges are there, but how is it possible to confront them? According to Scantling, minorities need to get out of their comfort zone.
“If we’re honest with ourselves, we have very few successful African-American businesses in the south St. Petersburg area. One of the goals is not to [stay] on 22nd Street, but to revitalize small businesses,” Scantling said.
Beyond the typical beauty salons, food restaurants and cleaning companies, Scantling feels minorities can do more.
“The millennials are thinking outside the box,” she said. “Our generational shift is going to continue to change the dynamics of what we’ve seen in the past. I don’t think we’ll ever get away from the top three, but other things will start to come into place.”
For those wanting to start a business, Scantling recommends having a plan. Getting registered or having a tax ID number doesn’t guarantee the success of your work. You need to figure out who you are, and who will be your target audience.
She recommends identifying how much it’s going to take to get your company up and running. It’s necessary to have a plan that outlines what you want for the outcome of your business. Also, understand how long it’s going to take you to generate revenue.
The expert points to three areas to consider when thinking about opening a new business: technology, consulting and selling products to the government.
“They are the largest consumer. Find something to sell to the government. Everything that you can think of, they buy it. Just find out how to get it into their hands,” she said.
This story is part of a 50-article series honoring black women in the Tampa Bay area.