American Express and the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. (USBC) have launched the first national certification program that will verify businesses are at least 51 percent owned by Black and African-American individuals. The new program is an expansion of one of the USBC’s business directories, ByBlack, and aims to provide Black-owned businesses exposure to consumers and contract opportunities with large corporations. 

“As we’ve seen countless organizations across corporate America pledge to diversify spending with Black-owned businesses, we really believe that this was a way of putting action behind those pledges,” Jessica Ling, Senior Vice President of Global B2B Marketing at American Express, told The Plug.

Along with corporate contracts, the ByBlack expansion is intended to help change how Black Americans direct their $1.3 trillion annual buying power.

“We just want to give our community the opportunity to keep that trillion dollars in our community by making sure that we’re spending our dollars with our Black-owned partners,” Ron Busby Sr., President of USBC, told The Plug.

While certification  programs for minority businesses are not new, they typically are not exclusive to Black-owned businesses. At the federal level, there is a program for small businesses owned by socially or economically disadvantaged people and the government aims to award at least five percent of federal contracting dollars to these businesses each year.

The state of Ohio also has a minority business certification program to help local businesses get state contracts. In the private sector, the National Minority Supplier Development Council runs a paid program that has certified more than 13,000 minority owned businesses.

But American Express and USBC say ByBlack is different from the plethora of Black business directories that have been created.

“There are many directories that are out across the market; many of them are industry specific,” Busby said. “What we attempted to do is to bring all Black businesses under one umbrella that can be found both from a corporate America perspective, as well as by Black consumers and consumers across the country that are looking to support Black-owned businesses.”

For a Black-owned business to become certified, owners need to fill out a free application and submit proof of ownership and identification that show the business is at least 51 percent Black-owned and is controlled by a Black business owner. A USBC committee will then verify the information and grant the certification.

American Express is helping fund and market the ByBlack certification program as part of the company’s broader $1 billion action plan announced in fall 2020 to help enhance diverse representation and promote equal opportunities.

Certified business owners do not get any specific financial benefits from American Express like waived transaction fees. However, the company is aiming to increase its spending with Black-owned suppliers to at least $100 million annually by 2024 and will use the ByBlack program to help achieve that goal.

Uber and Verizon are also accepting the ByBlack certification. One of the businesses that has already been certified is Sienna Naturals, a line of natural hair products co-owned by actress Issa Rae.

“When corporate America says, ‘Hey we want to spend more money with Black firms,’ typically the answer has been, ‘Well we can’t find them,’ or ‘They don’t have the size and the scale,'” Busby said. “This eliminates that challenge by saying, ‘Well here they are. We know who they are, we can verify who they are.'”