“Small Business Revolution” Returns to Minnesota Focused on Racial Equity

Amanda Brinkman talks with us about bringing the sixth season of her show back to the Twin Cities
From left: "Small Business Revolution" hosts Baron Davis and Amanda Brinkman
From left: “Small Business Revolution” hosts Baron Davis and Amanda Brinkman

Courtesy of "Small Business Revolution"

Amanda Brinkman gets a lot done in a day. Not only is she the chief brand and content officer at the Shoreview-based Deluxe information technology and services company, but she is the creator and co-host of Small Business Revolution, which was nominated for an Emmy for its fifth season, set during the pandemic. The show comes back home for season six this fall, when Brinkman and her new co-host, NBA legend Baron Davis, focus on Black-led small businesses in the Twin Cities. In conversation with Minnesota Monthly, Brinkman describes how she stays energized for so many projects, and gives a sneak preview of the powerful stories she’s telling.

Your series is about supporting small businesses. How has your lens on them changed since its inception?

When we were out telling the stories of 100 small businesses across the country [through photo and video essays for Deluxe’s 100th anniversary], we recognized that nowhere are small businesses more under siege than in small towns. Deluxe would ask people to nominate their favorite small town and invest half a million in revitalizing their main street. Each episode is about an individual small business.

What led you to start Small Business Revolution?

Eight years ago, when I joined Deluxe, they were on the eve of their 100th anniversary. We do a ton in the FinTech [financial technology] space and we’d started to build out all these services to help small businesses with their marketing. I thought, “How do we raise awareness with small businesses?” There’s no better way to understand how to communicate and market to them than truly spending time with them.

As you hear their stories, you recognize you’re supporting a person, their dream, their family, their employees, their community. Instead of an ad campaign, we thought, “Let’s do something that raises awareness of how important it is to support small businesses.” That’s when the Small Business Revolution was born, championed by Deluxe.

What challenges did the fifth season of the show face during the pandemic and how did you overcome them?

We had to pivot how we were capturing it. I had to film a lot from my basement. We thought, “How could we do different aspects in a creative way so that the entire episode wasn’t over Zoom?” We rented a big warehouse and had all these big screens up so we could feel like the business owners were in the room with us, around the table.

We’re very proud. All six businesses [featured] not only survived the pandemic but are truly thriving. It was a great opportunity to demonstrate how we’re going to help businesses evolve—with a strong digital footprint, an online presence, by communicating with customers, and pivoting the business model.

From left: West Broadway Business and Area Coalition executive director Felicia Perry, Sammy McDowell of Sammy's Avenue Eatery, Amanda Brinkman, Baron Davis
From left: West Broadway Business and Area Coalition executive director Felicia Perry, Sammy McDowell of Sammy’s Avenue Eatery, Amanda Brinkman, Baron Davis

How was the pandemic for you personally?

When you leave your home or go into a new space, you’re in a different mode. Having to be all those [personalities] in one physical space was emotionally and physically exhausting. [It’s important to keep] our families healthy, but as an extreme extrovert, I’m so excited to be back feeding off of energy. I do a lot of public speaking and I love it. No more Zoom webinars. At live speaking events, I feel the energy in a room and see audience reactions in real time.

You host a show, work in an agency, and sit on many nonprofit and charity boards. How do you do so many things?

I operate best when I have a little too much going on. Over the years, I’ve learned to say “yes” to the things I think really matter. If you’re busy and half the things on your list you’re not fed by, it exhausts you. But if it feeds you, it fuels that drive or ability to get it done.

Tell us about why it’s so important to tell the stories of Black Twin Cities businesses.

Minneapolis was the ground zero for the social reckoning we see the country going through. We thought, “How do we participate in a way that’s helpful?” There’s a lot we need to do.

One way forward is economic empowerment—that’s something Deluxe knows how to do, and a very natural way to be part of the solution. Bringing it back home, using our platform to feature incredible Black-owned business, we realized not only can we show what a difference it makes to invest in small businesses, but we can showcase Black excellence and Black joy in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The six [small businesses] we selected are leaders in communities. We want to celebrate and provide a platform for them to share their stories on a national stage to show what a difference it makes when you invest resources in business.

Are there any stories you want to preview for our readers?

We love all six. None of these businesses needed us [in order] to be successful; we just hope to add some acceleration to their growth. A great example of that is Lip Esteem. Tameka Jones started a lipstick company mixing lipsticks in her kitchen. She’s a magnanimous personality with a mission in her work. She wants to bring light to every customer and address self-esteem.

Another is Sammy’s Avenue Eatery. Sammy McDowell is not just trying to have his own business be successful, but he’s trying to encourage entrepreneurship in the community. His restaurant was a gathering place in the uprising, a place to distribute essential goods. We’re excited to show the positive momentum that’s in North Minneapolis.

How has Deluxe evolved since you joined?

We’re moving [to downtown Minneapolis] in the fall. It’s very exciting. An incredible acceleration in digital company transformation was underway, not only in what we do for small businesses, but for financial institutions and enterprise solutions. It’s been really fun to see the growth.

How can more agencies help the Black community?

There’s a danger of brands falling into hashtag activism. You need to remain steadfast as to how you’re addressing racial injustice. The world has been outraged. That can subside and we don’t want it to. There’s an opportunity here for real change. We need to kick that open so agencies and brands can figure out how to participate in all the ways to address systemic racism. It’s not just supporting entrepreneurs. Individuals can use their voices and decisions to support policies that support equity and equality. The white community needs to do the work to become better allies—not just standing for something, but doing something.

You’ve gotten to work with some exciting celebrities, from LeBron James to Ty Pennington. How has working alongside these heavyweights helped you understand your own presence and mission as a public figure?

What I’ve learned is, you should use your platform or anything that comes with it to bless other people. I don’t think people are meant to be famous just to make more money, or so people know who you are. You have access and influence to use your voice to change hearts and minds, to advocate for things you think matter in the world. You have an opportunity when you’re out meeting with people, and giving them a kind word goes a long way. I think at any level of notoriety, you’re supposed to use that for good.

Small Business Revolution season six launches in November on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and at smallbusinessrevolution.org

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