Lyneir Richardson is a man with a mission. His goal is to help 1,000 urban entrepreneurs grow their businesses, through a nine-month program run by the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development (CUEED) at Rutgers University in Newark, NJ. The program, where diversity abounds, has enrolled about 400 entrepreneurs so far.
As executive director of CUEED, Lyneir leads capacity-building programs, teaches an M.B.A. course in Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development and serves as faculty advisor to students consulting with small business owners. About 70 percent of the entrepreneurs within CUEED are African American and Latino, and 62 percent are women. Most have no connection to Rutgers. About 60 percent of the businesses employ fewer than five people but have potential to grow.
Lyneir is also co-founder and CEO of The Chicago TREND Corporation, a social enterprise initially funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Chicago Community Trust. It acts as a centralized resource for real estate developers, retailers and community development organizations wanting to invest in and understand Chicago’s neighborhoods, that can drive transformative change.
Lyneir was formerly the CEO of Brick City Development Corporation, where he had responsibility for real estate development, small business services and business attraction in Newark, N.J. He is an experienced commercial and residential real estate developer with over 17 years of experience in urban retail development.
Describing himself as an urban entrepreneur who is interested in strengthening economic conditions in underserved areas, Lyneir says he likes to work on bringing together private, public and philanthropic funds to support these kinds of projects. And he does that with incredible energy.
Information and Links
- CUEED designed their rigorous nine-month program, Entrepreneurship Pioneers Initiative, exclusively for first-generation entrepreneurs.
- CUEED’s Black and Latino Tech Initiative offers a unique pre-accelerator program for brand-new entrepreneurs that includes educational training, coaching, mentorship, networking and exposure to funding for new businesses.
- Entrepreneurial thinking, hand-in-hand with data, can be a powerful tool when applied to community investment in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:12] Hi there, thanks so much for joining me today for the latest episode of Impact Real Estate Investing.
Eve: [00:00:18] My guest today is the energetic Lyneir Richardson. In all that he does, Lyneir is razor-focused on helping urban entrepreneurs. He straddles two roles in two cities, Newark and Chicago. At Rutgers University in Newark, he is the executive director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. There he is intent on helping 1000 diverse urban entrepreneurs grow their companies. And he’s also an entrepreneur himself. He co-founded and is CEO of the Chicago Trend, a social enterprise providing resources to real estate developers and retailers to promote investment in Chicago neighborhoods.
Eve: [00:01:05] Be sure to go to rethinkrealestateforgood.co to find out more about Lyneir on the show notes page for this episode. And be sure to sign up for my newsletter so you can access information about impact real estate investing and get the latest news about the exciting projects on my crowdfunding platform, Small change.
Eve: [00:01:38] Hello Lyneir, I’m really excited to have you here today.
Lyneir Richardson: [00:01:42] Thank you for inviting me. I’m looking forward to our conversation.
Eve: [00:01:45] Yeah. So, you’re a man with a mission and I’d really love to talk about that today. And like, firstly, in your role as the director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers University, and that’s quite a mouthful, you’ve set a goal there of helping 1000 urban entrepreneurs grow their businesses. And I’d really like to hear more about that.
Lyneir: [00:02:09] Great. Well, I have been at Rutgers Business School for six years. In October of 2019 we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Rutgers Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. During that 10-year period, we really focused on helping a diverse set of entrepreneurs get to, quote unquote, the next level, and that’s how we always talked about, and then made the connection between entrepreneurship and economic development. Let me tell you a little bit about what I mean. We can point to the fact that we directly assisted over 400, now probably almost 500 entrepreneurs, 70 percent are entrepreneurs of color, African American or Latino largely, over 62 percent are women. 40 percent are right in the city of Newark, New Jersey which is an urban city that’s been really revitalizing through local municipal leadership and corporate support. And of those firms we’ve taken now a little over 160 above a million dollars a year in revenue. So we’re really excited about.
Eve: [00:03:22] Fabulous, yeah.
Lyneir: [00:03:23] That was really my, you know, first 10 years of work. And so the next, as we thought about it, all right, we’ve completed our 10 years, what do you want to do next? We really focused on this initiative we’re calling a thousand million. And as you mentioned, the focus is, can we help, you know, a thousand diverse entrepreneurs get to and exceed a million dollars a year of annual recurring revenue? The reason why that’s important for us is, you know, the million-dollar revenue mark is not the end all be all, but it’s an important threshold, it’s when an entrepreneur typically can start to think about either borrowing money or taking on investors. It’s at that point where they have some employees beyond themselves. It’s at that point where they hopefully will start to be able to consistently have some owner’s compensation or some profit to share. You know, they have customer validations and that type of stuff.
Eve: [00:04:21] They’re at the beginning of growth mode, right?
Lyneir: [00:04:24] The beginning of growth mode. And so, while we work with, you know, micro-entrepreneurs, you know, initially doing a hundred or two hundred thousand dollars of revenue, as long as they were in business for two years and we won’t, you know, discontinue working with them, we sort of turn to an intentional effort to take firms who are in the two to three, six hundred thousand dollar range and try to focus on getting them to the next level. That’s been fun.
Lyneir: [00:04:49] That’s our Rutgers Center for Urban…, and Rutgers has been a really supportive university environment because typically entrepreneurship centers at universities are, you know, internally focused. Helping students pursue entrepreneurial activity and helping alumni. Rutgers here, because we have this Chancellor, Nancy Cantor, who’s really made publicly engaged scholarship a strategic priority and a mission, she’s a national spokesperson for it, as well as the dean of our business school who made social impact, you know, one of her top initiatives and priorities we are able to open the doors of the business school to a community of entrepreneurs, many or most of which are not Rutgers students, and they’re not Rutgers alumni, you know. It’s just a community around us, the local coffee shop or the professional service provider in the area, in our state or region that we really are helping to accelerate and grow.
Eve: [00:05:53] Cool. How long is it going to get to a thousand of them?
Lyneir: [00:05:56] You know, it’s interesting. So, if you think about it, it took us 10 years to get 400 entrepreneurs in our program 160, I think by, you know, intentionally focusing, we’re hoping that over the next five years you will start to reach that goal. So we’re talking to a number of corporate partners, we’ve talked to some of the big philanthropy about both making, you know, our in-person courses, expanding them out some, but obviously not just because of the pandemic, but even in advance of it, using online tools so that we can expand our reach. So, yeah, we’re hoping that over the next five years, you know, we’ll start to see more, you know, more entrepreneurs across the threshold. We’re going to research it and track it and celebrate it as well.
Eve: [00:06:43] So what does an urban entrepreneur look like and where are they located? What sort of businesses are they?
Lyneir: [00:06:49] Yep. So it’s interesting. So, you know, urban entrepreneur is, it’s an interesting term. Urban is an interesting term, right? So, you know, what’s urban? Is it, in most instances place? Is it about density of place? I’ve been most passionate about urban with a racial lens. Racially diverse, economically, you know, challenged ethnic and underserved areas. So, in a lot of respects, my urban is really focused on here in the US, who have not been able to realize the full promise of our American dream, right? They have been subjected by, you know, systemic racism and that kind of stuff. So the question is, can I help them get resources and opportunity, you know to folks who have been overlooked and undervalued, right? So that’s really the focus of the urban we do. Distressed urban neighborhoods where we’ll create jobs and create wealth in communities. And then the economic development impact’s all-around quality of life, right? You know, will crime decrease? Will there be better educational outcomes, you know, more amenities and neighborhoods, you know, that type of work, right? And that’s the things that we measure, right? And so, our view is these urban entrepreneurs, as they become more successful, will be community anchors. They support the Little League team, you know, and civically active and employ locally and, you know, that’s the big dream and the vision for it all.
Eve: [00:08:20] Can you give us some examples of the sorts of businesses you’ve helped?
Lyneir: [00:08:24] So, a wide variety. I’ll talk about a few that we’re proud of.
Eve: [00:08:29] Surely, you’re proud of them all, right?
Lyneir: [00:08:33] Right, we’re proud of them all. I just did it off the top of my head, You’re right about that.
Eve: [00:08:35] It’s like your children.
Lyneir: [00:08:37] Well thank you for that, you’re right.
Lyneir: [00:08:38] We have four categories or signature program, sort of, lanes. One we call, which is our bedrock program, the Entrepreneurs Pioneers Initiative. It’s for first generation entrepreneurs. We have a program for media and art in entertainment industry entrepreneurs. We have a program that focuses on helping retail and restaurant entrepreneurs. And we have done a lot of work recently with people of color forming technology ventures and accelerating, you know, those ideas. And typically, after school and on the summer, we will do some youth entrepreneurship programs.
Lyneir: [00:09:17] You know, we have a really cool – I’ll just go walk back up the ladder – so we have a really cool technology firm called WearWorks that have started to raise capital into a number of strategic partnerships. This product is a haptics, sort of a navigation device for people with visual disabilities. Their recent accomplishment is using their product – a blind individual ran the New York Marathon for the first time without any type of seeing eye dog or, you know, used that tool to do it. We hope that they’re going to continue to grow and get resources and use their tools for training and for all types of health outcomes as well. We have put the local right down the street from our business school. We have a number of restaurants and coffee shops. Black Swan coffee, Green Chickpea is a restaurant. These are local businesses that we’ve either helped get contracts with the university, you know, one is soon to announce a second location. You know, the coffee shop I love because the donuts are so great, right? So, you know, I would I should be avoiding the donut shop, it’s really cool right down the street. A lot of professional services firms, PR firms, accounting firms.
Eve: [00:10:33] That’s a really wide variety.
Lyneir: [00:10:35] Yeah, very exciting.
Eve: [00:10:36] So, I wonder, how do you identify these entrepreneurs? What’s the bar they have to reach to be able to get into a program?
Lyneir: [00:10:43] Our initial requirement was in business at least two years, and one hundred thousand dollars of revenue is the threshold for most of our programs. The technology ventures, you know, we knew they were start-ups and, you know, it was, do we believe they could have some type of traction? Either they’ve gotten some other investment or been admitted into some other accelerator programs or, you know, have some indication of probability of success. But the goal really is, is to take people on, you know, a rung of the ladder and help them get to the next rung of the ladder. You know, at the state university where we view ourselves as an anchor, that’s going to be here. And so, we provide resources over many years. The entrepreneurs is not just in a program. You know, we give people student consulting teams over multiple years. We invite them back to universities over multiple years. So, you know, we’re in it for the long haul with the entrepreneurs in our funds.
Eve: [00:11:40] That sounds fabulous. What’s your background and how did you get here?
Lyneir: [00:11:45] Well, I started as a lawyer. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. My dad owned a restaurant and bar. We owned popcorn stores., we owned five popcorn stores. So, you know, like, our dinnertime conversations were around, you know, we got a new location or lease, or a truck broke down, or someone didn’t show up. You know, what are you going to do? And I, growing up as a teen, I was a D.J., a clean-up person, a delivery person, so I had all of those roles and saw business firsthand. I went to law school and practiced law initially as a bank lawyer.
Eve: [00:12:19] I have to ask, a family that owns popcorn stores begets a lawyer? How did that happen?
Lyneir: [00:12:25] Well, you know what? Yeah, our parents believed in education, right? And they believed, you know, in the value of education to continue to advance the family. What was interesting in being a bank lawyer was to de-mystify banking. I remember as a child, we’d always talk about how difficult it was to get a bank loan or, you know, and the narrative is, I was probably drawn to be a bank lawyer, and 90 lawyers in the law department there. But I remember every afternoon around 2:00 p.m., I’d start to fall asleep on the bank loan documents. It wasn’t until I got an opportunity to do a community pro bono project of loaning, instead of loaning one hundred million dollars to an airlines or a public utility, I got a project to loan one hundred thousand dollars to a little entrepreneur, a local entrepreneur who was buying the building that I think he was operating his barbershop from. And it was the same documents, promissory note, loan agreement, guarantee, minus three zeros. Instead of one hundred million it was one hundred thousand.
Eve: [00:13:27] Right, I’m very familiar.
Lyneir: [00:13:29] But I loved it, right? It was, all of a sudden, I could see the connection to the work. And, you know, being on that court or in a struggling neighborhood not far from where we initially grew up. Then that community development work became my passion, right. Getting resources to those type of entrepreneurs into the communities, that became my passion.
[00:13:50] I worked as a bank lawyer. I became an entrepreneur myself in Chicago. I developed, built and sold well over 300 single family homes and town homes, mostly in underserved areas, was Young Entrepreneur of the Year in SBA many years ago, right 25, almost 30 years ago. But then I had all the highs and all the lows of entrepreneurship from, you know, the cover of the Crain’s Magazine and the awards to the doors of bankruptcy court. I ended up selling my company in a fire sale after a tough period. I lost, got fired on the job, we over-extended ourself on a contract, you know, I had, you know personal, you know, the mother died, you know, I had this period of just needing to restructure. But I was able to get a job doing the same work, heading a national initiative with a publicly traded company that was focused on doing retail development in urban neighborhoods.
Lyneir: [00:14:45] And so by now, I start to see this pattern. I was a bank lawyer and found passion and lending in urban neighborhoods. I then started as an entrepreneur building homes in urban neighborhoods. Then I found this big corporate position that had a national focus on getting retail to urban neighborhoods. And then, when the recession hit in 2007, I got this opportunity to work with Cory Booker and head the Economic Development Organization in Newark, New Jersey. Cory Booker, as you may know, very charismatic mayor of Newark, New Jersey, ultimately became Senator Booker. And because of his charisma, we had this opportunity to position Newark as a city that would be a national model of urban transformation and started to do projects. So, we did grocery stores and office buildings and new restaurants in the city – it became a lot of fun. And when he became Senator Booker is when I moved to Rutgers. So that’s the long sort of career journey.
Eve: [00:15:45] I mean, there seems to be a lot happening in Newark. I keep running into people doing…
Lyneir: [00:15:49] Very good. I mean, even now, phenomenal current leadership. Senator Booker is working more at the national level, but we have a phenomenal local mayor who’s galvanized both the business community, the residential community, and really done phenomenal work here. So, a lot’s going on. The last thing I just want to mention is, what initially started out as a research project in my first year at Rutgers has now morphed into a social enterprise that we’re. you know, really excited about. I’m also CEO of a social enterprise called Chicago Trend. It’s a real estate focused social enterprise that now has about 15 million dollars of capital investing in the same neighborhoods, trying to determine when commercial real estate development and retail amenities and services and performing arts, and we’ve been investing two hundred thousand, two million dollars into various projects with the mission of strengthening the commercial corridors that will ultimately strengthen the neighborhoods. And again, Rutgers has been very good in allowing this research work to be in synergy with the entrepreneurial activity in Chicago. So, for me, I am at a high point in my career, both sides of the brain. One side is teaching entrepreneurs and being a champion and cheerleader of entrepreneurs in Rutgers. The other side is, I actually get to put money into ventures and, and trying to make an investment return. So, it really is a fun time. A fun career.
Eve: [00:17:24] Exciting. It sounds like you’re very busy.
Lyneir: [00:17:27] Absolutely. But, when it’s passion work, even though it’s busy, you know, it doesn’t hurt.
Eve: [00:17:32] No, I totally agree with you. So then, what, you know, what does socially responsible real estate look like to you?
Lyneir: [00:17:39] So, again, my focus has been getting resources to people in places that other people overlook and undervalue. And for me, that is, every city has a part of town, again I headed economic development in Newark, so there was a part of town where crime is higher, where there’s more blight, where, you know, educational achievement is not as great, where there’s adverse health indicators. That’s the part of town that I believe, a focus on real estate development and a focus on commercial corridor, inclusive ownership of property, getting amenities, day-care, dry cleaner, urgent care center, grocery store is what people often talk about, sit down restaurant. Those type of investments can change and strengthen a neighborhood. And people also will change, I’m concerned about gentrification. It’s always not bringing Neiman Marcus in, it’s bringing the amenities and services that improve the quality of life for the residents who have decided this is where I want to live, but to also continue to add economic diversity to a neighborhood as well. Additional income so that middle income families and, you know, people with additional educational achievements can say: I grew up here, I have some connection to this neighborhood and I can make this a place where I choose to live because of its conveniences and its history and, you know, be a part of its continued progression.
Eve: [00:19:22] Yeah, I mean, I think the gentrification line is very difficult because we can’t leave places like that without investment. So, you have to find a way to invest respectfully, I suppose it’s the way.
Lyneir: [00:19:35] Exactly right. And doing it inclusively. So this is, you know, the capital we’ve invested. It’s with people of color who have some connection to that neighborhood. It’s helping residents open a national franchise in a neighborhood. Again, it’s getting capital to help residents and local entrepreneurs own and drive the revitalization, own and drive the economic growth. That’s what’s fun for me.
Eve: [00:20:05] So the fund, the fifteen-million-dollar fund that you’re using, how did you raise that?
Lyneir: [00:20:11] It initially philanthropically motivated impact investors. It is, the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago provided the initial five million dollars of what they call the program related investment, a very flexible, patient capital which allows us to invest it into projects in a patient and flexible way as well. We’ve had a second investor, five million dollars of venture called Benefit Chicago, which was, includes the Coward Foundation. And then most recently we announced a five-million-dollar investment from Fifth Third Bank, you know, again a flexible capital. And we have, some of the religious organizations have also made some. The American Baptist Home Mission Society has provided some equity capital that we’re using also, so really excited about it.
Eve: [00:21:04] So, you know, my next comment is going to be, you know, what about crowdfunding? Letting everyday people invest?
Lyneir: [00:21:11] Again, when I read about your work, it’s something that I would love to figure out how to do. We haven’t and it’s certainly, we want crowdfunding to be a part of our menu. And again, now that we have made investments, have a track record, you know, this thought of can I create vehicles that will allow more local ownership alongside of our investment would be phenomenal. So,
Eve: [00:21:37] Well, we should talk ’cause you don’t need to figure it out ’cause I have.
Lyneir: [00:21:40] Great. We should do something together. I love it.
Eve: [00:21:43] Yeah, it really is an impact fund with impact investors who care about what you’re doing. It’s pretty great stuff. Yeah. So, I have to ask, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re both at home doing this interview, how are you supporting your entrepreneurs through this pandemic?
Lyneir: [00:22:05] Phenomenal question. You know, we have done a few webinars initially asking people, how is the pandemic affecting you? How are you thinking about your business model? How can we be supportive? So, you know, first thing was, instead of just responding, we started to talk to the entrepreneurs and try to understand from our customers how we could best support them. We’ve done a number of webinars and servers around applying for the available resources, as well as thinking about how to innovate business model to a more aligned and my favorite was, one of the entrepreneurs in our program operates a dance studio. But, you know, they’re doing their jazz dance programs via Zoom now. And the one question she wanted us to help her figure out was, you know, do I have legal liability? And, you know, how do I, you know, either get some consents because they’re not in my spaces, if someone gets hurt? So, you know, that those type of strategic questions, right?
Eve: [00:23:05] That’s interesting, yeah.
Lyneir: [00:23:06] That’s really been the nature of the work. Where I am spending a lot of time is on a program that goes deep, right? So, I think right now, everybody is having, rightfully so and thankfully so, there’s a lot of announcements about new programs and small grants, local, municipal, federal, corporate, even philanthropic, to help entrepreneurs sort of survive. I really am spending a lot of time thinking about, and we’ve designed a sort of, I call it entrepreneurial management consulting to help entrepreneurs really think beyond the first three months of opening. But to think about, you know, the economic reality over the next year and two, you know. How do you change your model? How do you create new revenue streams? Is this the time to reposition? Can you raise new capital in addition to, you know, accessing all of the survival and recovery capital and strategies that are out there? How do you really think about this as a moment to become stronger?
Eve: [00:24:16] Yes. The interesting thing is, like, entrepreneurs are wired that way, right? They’re people who think things up and work through challenges and are flexible and figure out how to get through unexpected challenges and it could be a really good opportunity to make a business stronger or different or add some programming to it or whatever. And I have noticed amongst people in general, there seems to be a clear divide between people who say, well, we’re just gonna get back to normal and others who say, well, what’s normal going to be? It’s going to be different. It’s very interesting to me. And you’re clearly one of the people thinking about a different normal, right?
Lyneir: [00:24:58] Absolutely. And again, I think entrepreneurs are thinking about that as well. I guess there’s two categories. There are some folks who say this is the time for me to reposition or to do entrepreneurship, either in a different way or to think about that this is not fun, right. And then again, there’s a lot of parts of entrepreneurship that are not fun. And, you know there’s late nights and there’s accounts payable and, you know, and chasing, you know, opportunity. And so, I think there’ll be some folks who will say, this may be my time to exit or to leave, right? But there’s another subset of entrepreneurs that I believe are, even right now, thinking where’s the new opportunity? How do I get new capital to pursue that opportunity? They’re sitting back at home and thinking about what do I need to do to create a stronger business, additional wealth, you know, when we all are back outside again in the new norm?
Eve: [00:26:03] Yeah, interesting. So, a final question is, what do you think that the Center will look like in a year? Have you thought about that?
Lyneir: [00:26:14] Yeah, so I mean, again, we have already pivoted to all of our capacity building programs now are virtual. And the thought of being able to have a broader reach. You know, we won three of four awards for the effectiveness of our programs. And to be able to have a broader reach because of technology, and it being accepted, that’s the cool thing about using all of the Zoom and WebEx and other tools is before, it always was sort of, well it was a second option, the technology was always sort of clunky. You would never make that even part of the first consideration. I think now our Center’s going to have a whole lot more reach and impact by using, and leaning into, and the acceptance of the virtual tools. And we’re also, you know, embarking on a campaign to endow our Center which will allow us to be, you know, not raising money program by program, to name the Center and to be able to continue to impact entrepreneurs along the scale. From youth to technology to the coffee shop down the street.
Eve: [00:27:30] Well, I really can’t wait to hear, see what happens next and you and I are going to have some coffee on Zoom sometime very soon. Thank you very much.
Lyneir: [00:27:42] What a phenomenal opportunity and thank you.
Eve: [00:27:46] OK, bye.
Eve: [00:28:02] That was Lyneir Richardson, while Lyneir’s work straddles two cities the goal is the same in both places. He’s searching for ways to level the playing field for entrepreneurs and real estate developers in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. In Newark he’s helped 400 diverse entrepreneurs, growing to a thousand, grow their businesses. And in Chicago he provides resources to real estate developers and retailers to promote investment in disadvantaged Chicago neighborhoods.
Eve: [00:28:35] You can find out more about impact real estate investing and access the show notes for today’s episode at my web site, rethinkrealestateforgood.co. While you’re there, sign up for my newsletter to find out more about how to make money in real estate while building better cities.
[00:28:52] Thank you so much for spending your time with me today and thank you Lyneir for sharing your thoughts with me. We’ll talk again soon but for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Image courtesy of Lyneir Richardson