The ‘heart work’ of uplifting Black-owned businesses

On July 30, Google Search and Maps launched a new feature allowing merchants in the U.S. to add a Black-owned attribute to their profile, making it easier for customers to find and support them. 


Tia McLaurin, community engagement manager with Grow with Google, sat down with head of Google for Startups, Jewel Burks, to discuss the attribute and what it means for business owners of color. After several years at Google, and a brief hiatus where she focused on her own business venture, Jewel was tapped this year to lead Google’s initiatives around entrepreneurs.  


Tia: Jewel, I’ve heard your name for years. My team was so excited when you decided to come back to Google.  When the idea for the Black-owned attribute first came up, someone along the way said, ‘You really need to talk to Jewel. She’s had this idea before.’ I'm glad you planted the seed. 


Jewel: I think there’s been a lot of work over the years that created the pathway to this point. I'm really just grateful for you that you were in the position to go for it and really push it through. Can you explain what the Black owned business attribute is, and how it’s come to fruition now? 


Tia: Sure. We launched the Black-owned business attribute on Google Search and Maps to help customers identify businesses they may want to support, that happen to be Black-owned. Business owners can log into their Business Profile via Google My Business and opt-in to a visual attribute that will indicate that they're Black-owned.


We already have LGBTQ friendly, Women-Led and Veteran-Led attributes, and now we have this new Black-owned attribute. Given what’s going on and the recent events in the U.S. and the Buy Black movement, it just felt like the right time to support businesses in this way.


Jewel: Recent events have demonstrated how important this work really is, and how we have the power to make an impact on these businesses. A lot of them are on that line where the resources we're offering them could be the difference between their businesses succeeding or not. For me, this has been a major motivator. I feel compelled to give it my all and really work hard on behalf of these companies, because I know how important it is for us to show up for them. 


Tia:  I agree. An estimated 40% of Black-owned businesses have closed since COVID began. That number is wild. The work that you do, and the resources that Grow with Google and provide through partnerships with organizations like Opportunity Finance Network and the U.S. Black Chambers are critical to ensure that we don't lose more businesses due to COVID and to the systemic things beyond COVID – and that we are doing everything we can to build more equity in our communities.


Jewel: There have been many positive responses to the Black-owned business attribute, but there have been a few people who felt like this is a potential way to target businesses by bad actors. From your perspective, how did we address these issues?


Tia: First we have an amazing trust and safety team that has worked tirelessly to address these questions and build tools and resources, which you can find in the Help Center, to make sure that Black-owned businesses feel safe and respected. 


We’ve also had a lot of discussions. We realize that the choice to include this attribute might not be right for everyone. Since this is an opt-in feature, businesses choose to use it, and we believe more businesses will see this as an opportunity. 


Jewel: What have been some of your most memorable moments working with business owners? What aspects of your work are you most passionate about?


Tia: I love seeing people have those “aha” moments when they realize how they can use our free resources and tools to really benefit them. All of our sessions are virtual now, but I still see this happening in the chats and Q&As. 


Grow with Google is thinking about how this work is not just impacting businesses, but job seekers and families too. We know that small businesses are tuning in to Grow with Google OnAir to learn how they can continue to be resilient in this trying time, but so are job seekers who are thinking about their next steps. We just announced the new Google Career Certificates that allow people to prepare for new, in-demand careers they can do remotely. I'm glad we have our hands in work that will continue to be important beyond COVID.

I’m curious about your perspective. You were named the head of Google for Startups US in January. What have been some standout moments for you since taking on this role?

Pictured left: Artist Symone Lakes, owner of Omi Grace, at Google for Startups' February event celebrating Atlanta’s Black entrepreneurs. Right: Jewel Burks (middle) at the event, with Justin Dawkins, Atlanta's Google digital coach, and Barry Givens, managing director at Techstars.

Jewel: One of the things I really wanted to do was demonstrate for people why we chose to center this work in Atlanta. It is really important for me to showcase the beauty of what it means to have a thriving ecosystem, like the Black entrepreneurial ecosystem we have here. One of the first things we did was create a tribute video to Atlanta entrepreneurship highlighting Black entrepreneurs from the past and spotlighting up-and-coming entrepreneurs from the area. We threw an event in February where we invited everyone who was featured in the video, and kicked off applications for the Atlanta Founders Academy, which we launched right at the beginning of the pandemic. 


Working with entrepreneurs is always a highlight. I was really inspired by the applicants as I was reading their stories and making selections for the Founders Academy. I’m also now seeing how resilient they’ve been through this time. Many of them have had personal loss. They've had people in their families affected by COVID, and they've had loved ones lose their jobs because of everything that's going on. They are really bearing a lot. Being a resource and offering tools - like free therapy - for everyone in the program has been really rewarding.  


This is what I consider to be “heart work.” You know, it’s really really close to my heart, and I am just really honored to be able to do it.


Tia: I’m just so glad you’re the one leading Google for Startups, Jewel. When you look back on this moment, what will stay with you?


Jewel: The fact that I'm back here at Google, and that I have been able to see this attribute come to life, makes me kind of emotional. 


Tia: I'm inspired by that. The little seed you planted 10 years ago has the potential to become a global opportunity, not only to celebrate small businesses, but to provide much needed support to those who have been underserved and underrepresented. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.