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Program provides no-cost technical assistance and funding readiness for minority-owned businesses

Little Rock, Ark.Southern Bancorp Community Partners (SBCP), a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and partner of Southern Bancorp, Inc., has officially launched its Minority Business Empowerment Program (MBEP), which will provide business technical assistance and funding readiness for minority business owners in five Arkansas counties. Applications for the first cohort of 2024 opened on June 1.

“Small businesses are integral to the health and growth of our local communities, but too often minority-owned businesses are either unable to access financing or receive the tools and resources needed to grow and thrive,” said Darrin Williams, CEO of Southern Bancorp, Inc. “This program is an important vessel through which we can help entrepreneurs overcome those barriers to reach their full potential, and in turn create more jobs and opportunities in our communities.”

Southern Bancorp’s MBEP was created following the success of a pilot version of the program in 2021. During this pilot phase, 29 entrepreneurs in Pulaski County received free technical assistance and around half received loan funding. To date, more than $1 million in financing has been distributed to participating small businesses.

The MBEP will expand upon those efforts programmatically and geographically. The program’s business technical assistance, which is led by industry experts over the course of 12 weeks and includes both group learning and one-on-one sessions, centers around seven key business disciplines: sales and operations, financial management and accounting, human resources, marketing and communications, management and leadership, business growth strategies, and digital technology integration. After completing the program, participants are better prepared to seek funding to support their business operations, growth, and scalability.

Southern Bancorp’s MBEP will focus primarily on assisting business owners in five Arkansas counties, including Pulaski County, Saline County, Lonoke County, Faulkner County, and White County. However, qualified applicants outside of these areas in Arkansas and Mississippi will also be considered.

The MBEP is supported by program partner Simmons Bank, which in May announced a $1.25 million investment for the program’s operations and funding abilities. Simmons Bank’s support includes a 10-year, $1 million Equity Equivalent (EQ2) investment and a $250,000 grant to provide technical assistance to participating MBEP businesses.

A recent study by the Brookings Institution found that Black-owned businesses drive high percentage increases in employees, revenue, and payroll, but represent less than 3 percent of employers nationwide. Further, the Federal Reserve Bank recently reported that only 13 percent of minority businesses received all the financing they sought during a one-year period, compared to around 40 percent of white-owned businesses.

Southern Bancorp’s overall purpose is to narrow these kinds of gaps in the financial world, which are particularly prevalent in rural, minority, and underserved communities. Southern Bancorp Community Partners, the institution’s nonprofit loan fund and financial development organization, and its Minority Business Empowerment Program are extensions of that guiding purpose and operate within the same, mission-focused framework.

“As a former minority entrepreneur myself, I understand many of the challenges faced by our communities firsthand, as well as the critical need for programs like this to help support small businesses with the building blocks to sustain, succeed, and scale,” said Kenya Davenport, Interim President of Southern Bancorp Community Partners.

Applications for the first of two 2024 MBEP cohorts opened on June 1. For more information or to apply, visit:

The Minority Business Empowerment Program is made possible through a collaborative group of program partners, including Simmons Bank, the City of Little Rock, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Fifty for the Future, BCA Culture, and Southern Bancorp, Inc.


About Southern Bancorp
Founded in 1986 by some of the nation’s leading political, business, and philanthropic leaders with an initial investment of $10 million, Southern Bancorp, Inc., along with its development partners – Southern Bancorp Bank and Southern Bancorp Community Partners – has grown into a $2.6 billion asset organization with 56 locations serving 65,000 customers across two states. Southern Bancorp has a unique array of financial products and services designed to help individuals at all stages of life’s financial journey – from teaching kids how to save to helping entrepreneurs and families realize the American Dream. Southern Bancorp is a certified Community Development Financial Institution, certified B-Corp, and proud member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values. Learn more at and