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Transgenderownit hero
• Jun 20, 2024

Dani Fiore, a Pennsylvania music educator, found themselves with just one month to find a studio space and launch their new business in 2023. Fortunately, Dani had just joined Own It!, a TD Bank sponsored business development program for transgender and gender expansive entrepreneurs.  

 “Launching a business as a trans person—it's terrifying. Seeing a community of people week after week who are just like me, doing the exact same thing that I'm doing, facing a lot of the same challenges…it was really inspirational,” Dani said. Their business, Empowered Music, has grown to serve over 75 families from the original 25 since graduating from the program.   

 Own It! is a TD Bank sponsored program in collaboration with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) and Destination Tomorrow that launched during the pandemic when transgender and gender expansive, also known as TGX, entrepreneurs were increasingly at risk of finding themselves isolated by the impacts of COVID-19. Since its inception, the program now has national reach and is in its fourth year, driving economic growth and cultivating a vibrant community.  

 “By the end of this year, 100 transgender entrepreneurs will have completed the program” since it started in 2020, said Barton Jackson, a TD Bank relationship manager and one of the program’s founders. He noted that each business has a powerful multiplier effect. 

 “Every time there’s a new LGBTQ2+ business, these businesses need LGBTQ2+ services…it builds an economy in itself,” Barton said.  

 During this Pride Month in June, TD is taking time to celebrate past, current and future support of the LGBTQ2+ community and its allies, as their journey towards a more inclusive future continues. 

Empowering entrepreneurs, creating community 

Own It! is held virtually to help remove barriers and so entrepreneurs from across the country can participate. Participants receive education on three key subjects: strategic research and planning, building a business plan, and long-term profitability. The program culminates in a pitch session where students present to an expert panel for feedback. Each participant is also assigned a mentor.  

Perhaps even more powerful than the economic and educational aspect is the community the program creates, and the work with the NGLCC is key to this success. With the NGLCC's partnership, outreach, logistics, and fulfillment of this program is possible, and this partnership has allowed us to support TGX businesses from a vegan ice cream manufacturer in Hawaii to DEI consultants in New York. 

 “For trans and gender expansive folks to be able to navigate entrepreneurship and learn from other trans folks who have done it and are seeing success in their businesses is pretty incredible,” said Jessye Grieve-Carlson, associate director of affiliate relations at the NGLCC. 

 “It’s designed to help people who have an idea for a business but aren’t sure what the next steps are. Or maybe they’ve just started their business and are looking for resources to get it off the ground,” said Jessye. 

Barton agreed. “Transgender businesses are not represented within the small business community.” He cited a 2016 study from the NGLCC that found only 2% of their certified businesses were run by transgender entrepreneurs. This—combined with the fact that only a sliver of charitable resources for LGBTQ2+ causes were being directed toward financial education—inspired him and Sean Coleman, executive director of Destination Tomorrow, to start Own It!  

“In TD's support of business development and serving the community, we are making the non-visible, visible,” said Barton.  

Own It! impact reaches TD  

Beyond supporting transgender entrepreneurs, Own It! contributes to a sense of community and safety among LGBTQ2+ colleagues at TD. Adrian Miller is a retail onboarding coach who was forced to flee his home country of Jamaica to live openly and safely as a gay man. He has experienced moments of inequality, and truly embodies the idea of furthering inclusion and ensuring everyone feels a sense of belonging.  Having found it himself at TD, he is proud of the work TD is doing to further workplace inclusion, and now gives back by volunteering as an educator with Own It!  

“TD has been a great place for me,” Adrian said. “So, I volunteer without hesitating…the impact we make means so much to me.” 

Own It! also paves the way for future growth. Nationwide, LGBTQ2+ businesses contribute $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy, according to NGLCC. TD’s footprint includes an estimated 5 million LGBTQ2+ individuals, of whom 675,000 identify as transgender and gender expansive, based on data from the Williams Institute.

“There's a huge opportunity to help build that entrepreneurial base in the U.S. from Maine to Florida, and for TD Bank to be their bank of choice,” Barton said. “We’re providing education, community and infrastructure to folks who need it, before it's time for lending. We’re there for them from the ground up.” 

Imagining what’s next  

“My hope for the future is that the program continues to grow,” Jessye said. They imagine expanding the curriculum to include marketing and other small business essentials, as well as continuing to expand the network of mentors.  

“Every corporation should be accountable to the folks that they're serving and should be a part of making the world a more equitable place,” they added. 

For entrepreneurial hopefuls, there’s still time to get involved: applications are open until July 23 for the next class beginning in September. 

What would Dani say to someone thinking of applying? 

“Do it. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.”   

Want to learn more about Diversity & Inclusion?
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How Being a Diverse Owned and Operated Business 'Gets You a Seat at the Table'
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