August 08, 2022


Last week during the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 11th Annual Building Resilience Through Private-Public Partnerships Conference, Diedra Henry-Spires, senior advisor to the administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration, spoke on a panel focused on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Henry-Spires’ remarks centered on the importance of supporting childcare businesses as America’s workforce strives to return to industries decimated by the pandemic.

“We have to support those business owners, who then support other parents and caretakers in their ability to be active in the workforce. But we need it to be high quality because we need to build a fantastic workforce of innovators, entrepreneurs of the future, and it really starts in early childhood development,” she said. “It is a worthwhile, necessary investment, no matter your industry.”

Early on, the U.S. Chamber Foundation recognized the impact of the pandemic on small businesses, particularly for minority owners. It established the Coalition to Back Black Businesses (CBBB) in September 2020 – a multi-year initiative founded in partnership with American Express and four leading national Black business organizations – to provide critical support and immediate financial aid to Black-owned small businesses through grants, mentorship, and other resources through 2024.

In June, the CBBB awarded Panoramic Learning Academy (PLA), an early childhood learning center based in Berkeley, California, a $25,000 enhancement grant, along with 19 other businesses. Launched in January 2020 PLA prepares two to five-year-olds for kindergarten by emphasizing academics with a particular focus on science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, as well as social skills.

“There’s a number of children who are not prepared for kindergarten, especially children from disadvantaged backgrounds, children of color,” Phillip Hall, executive director of PLA, said. “There is a widening gap between those children and their counterparts. And when we thought about that, we thought to ourselves, a learning academy that centers on and emphasizes academics would be something to help decrease that gap between those children and their counterparts.”

During the pandemic, PLA faced the challenge of not being able to open due to not receiving their business license because of a backlog. The delay lasted six months before they could open and admit students.

Despite those obstacles, the shutdown and loss of revenue allowed Hall and Renée McGhee, PLA’s academic director, to evaluate other avenues of receiving income while continuing to reach children virtually. One development they had was the creation of Professor Snook, a zany character and ambassador for PLA, known for his wacky hair and love for science. They plan to create an Instagram and a YouTube show, as well as merchandise for both PLA and Professor Snook.

“I’m very thankful to Ureeka, the CBBB, and the grants. We’ve learned so much from the mentoring; I’ve spoken with other African American entrepreneurs through the program,” Hall explained. “The grants put our minds at ease because being a small business in the infancy stages, you need finances, you need help, you need mentoring. The Ureeka platform was a great asset to help us get to where we wanted to be.”

The grants also allowed the early childhood learning center to purchase more safety materials to stay within the rules and the guidelines of the county in which they practice and reside. They also used some funds to start a scholarship program for disadvantaged children who may not be able to attend PLA and developed an onboarding process for their employees.

PLA remains focused on engaging and supporting the Berkeley community, outside of the critical support they offer for working families in the area. They provide food to the homeless, make donations to the Berkeley Unified School District and BANANAS, a nonprofit childcare resource in the Alameda County area, and participate in community cleanups with council members.

Hall and McGhee believe in the power of individual efforts to create long-lasting impacts.

“It’s so interesting to see some of the children that have started at Panoramic Learning Academy and where they are today,” Hall said. “And what’s even more exciting is that the parents see it, and the parents come to us and say, ‘What are you doing? We’re so thankful. We’re so grateful. Panoramic Learning Academy has changed our children.’ And that is the best reward you could receive.”

The Coalition to Back Black Businesses (CBBB) is now accepting applications for its 2022-23 cohort through September 6, 2022. Don't miss the chance to gain access to financial assistance, mentorship opportunities, and other resources to help grow your business. Visit for more information.