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September 03, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Shora Foundation seeking funding for Growth and Shared Development Center in the East Knoxville

Tanika Harper is on a mission. In fact, you might say she’s focused on multiple missions.

We first met her in 2017 when she was part of the “Paradigm Challenge,” a Launch Tennessee-supported and Knoxville Area Urban League-led effort to bring new business starts into the East Knoxville community. As described in this article, the resident of the community was and still is the owner of Harper’s Naturals, a partner in Elite Facility Maintenance, and founder of Shora Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Harper is also a mother who home schools her daughter, has a virtual schooling pod for three other elementary students, and is one of the leaders of the annual “Maker City Summit” in Knoxville that is set for September 12. As if that’s not enough, one of her newest efforts is to raise $1.5 million for a Growth and Shared Development Center in the East Knoxville community.

How did an already very busy person take on this latest task? It builds on the fact that she was already involved with a number of start-ups, providing the founders with advice and guidance. “I felt the time was right to be more intentional,” Harper said, adding, “I could not keep complaining and not offer a solution.”

She described deep concerns about insufficient emphasis being placed by local leaders on marginalized communities like East Knoxville. “The poverty rate among African Americans here is 42 percent, yet we only make-up 13 percent of the city’s population,” Harper explains. “That is very alarming.”

There’s also one statistic she cited that we had not heard and another one that is common among female founders regardless of race. “Black women are starting businesses faster than other groups,” Harper says, citing Amex’s “2019 State of Women-Owned Business Report” which noted that Black women represent 42 percent of net new women-owned businesses started in the last year which is three times their share of the female population.

Unfortunately, Black women and their counterparts in other races face a significant hurdle in accessing capital. According to this recent article in Inc. magazine, women-led start-ups secured just two to three percent of the investments from venture firms in the decade between 2010 and 2019.

“We need to provide access to both social and financial capital,” Harper says.

She describes the Center as an in-between space that would serve those who need to graduate from their homes but are not yet ready to move into their own dedicated building or office suite. In our recent discussion, she used the term co-working to describe part of her vision that also includes a robust mix of business development classes that would be offered in the facility by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.

Under her best case scenario, the facility would be 16,000 to 20,000 square feet in size. The $1.5 million that Harper is seeking would not only allow her to purchase a building, but also outfit it. She’s exploring grants but also asking for individual or corporate donations to the Shora Foundation.

“Shora means a safe place in the Nigerian language,” Harper explains. “We want to create opportunities and transform communities.”

We asked how business was going at Harper’s Naturals, and she said “pretty well in spite of COVID. It has been steady growth.”

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