Four years ago, Kade Kimber was approached by a friend, asking Kimber if he would be interested in joining the board of directors for the Raleigh Business and Professional Network (RBPN). RBPN served as an LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce for the 50 eastern North Carolina counties, helping to uplift LGBTQ+, ally and minority-owned businesses. 

“I was somewhat familiar with RBPN at the time, just from having read about it online and as a small business owner myself,” Kimber explains. “I figured, ‘Well, why not?’”

Kimber officially joined the board in 2020, right before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. During those months of exclusively virtual events and meetings, Kimber said the organization was unable to focus on the business and networking aspects.

Kimber was approached by the former president of the organization, who asked him if he had any interest in running for president himself.

“I was rather frustrated with where the organization wasn’t going, and the fact it was not helping LGBT businesses to the degree it could be helping them,” Kimber states. “I got to thinking about it … if I were in a position where I had a say in things, stronger than just a general board seat, then those frustrations could be resolved.”

Kimber ran and was elected as RBPN’s president in 2021. Once in the role, Kimber led a rebranding campaign for RBPN to provide a better focus on LGBTQ+ entrepreneurship. He said after RBPN accepted the official designation from the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce as an affiliate, he wanted to ensure the focus of the organization was on uplifting the LGBTQ+ and ally-owned business community in east North Carolina.

RBPN recruited Republic Media as the agency that would develop and pitch a reband of the organization. Throughout the brainstorming process, Kimber said the people with Republic were always asking questions to better understand what it means to identify as LGBTQ+ and be a business owner.

When it was time for the marketing team to pitch the rebrand to Kimber and his board, Kimber said he was blown away by the quality of the presentation.

“They played the John Lennon song, Imagine, throughout the entire over 100 slide presentation,” he said. “[The presenter] summarized the lyrics and what it means to him and how it reflects upon harmony as a whole or on our organization.”

The presentation finished with the reveal of a new name for RBPN: Harmony LGBT+ Allied Chamber of Commerce. Kimber said he didn’t expect the marketing team to come in with a new name for the organization, but he said after seeing the pitch, Harmony started to stick with him.

“The saying that an unwritten goal is simply a dream kept resonating in my head, and I realized the name Harmony is a written goal,” he says. “So it changes from a dream to a goal — it is saying that at some point in the future, we hope and believe that we will all work in harmony, regardless of these invisible barriers, to create a better world, a better business environment and better business community.”

The chamber has over 200 members, ranging from college students and individual professionals to local businesses and corporate partners and is continuing to increase its clientele. Last year saw a 140 percent increase in membership and as of this month, there has also been an increase of roughly 40 percent.

Harmony isn’t exclusive to LGBTQ+ businesses or individuals, according to Kimber. He said almost half of the members of the chamber are ally-owned businesses or ally professionals.

“It’s in support of LGBT+ businesses, with professional growth as the core group focus, but it takes everybody to do that, so ally-ship is really, really important,” Kimber explained. “You can identify however you want, so long as you show positive support for the LGBT+ community.”

Harmony’s focus

After the rebrand, Harmony shifted its focus on uplifting LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and giving them the resources necessary for success. The chamber does this by hosting networking events, educational courses on financing and other important business topics, and more.

“We focus on bringing in experts, everything from financial education to business planning to succession planning,” Kimber says. “We also have access to resources to help people know how to file patents, how to write a business plan … or any of the myriad of topics that are out there, even on how to open a business checking account.”

LGBTQ+ individuals are statistically less likely to be qualified for financing or loans — with 46 percent of LGBTQ+ identifying business owners being denied financing compared to 35 percent of their heterosexual counterparts, according to the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement & Research.

“If an LGBT+ business owner is applying for a commercial lease, and the landlord or whichever brokerage is representing them know that is an LGBT+ owned business, they’re more apt to decline the lease than they would be if they were not LGBT+,” Kimber says. “Hurdles and obstacles can be put in place due to personal prejudices that are still within the law, but that just makes it really, really challenging for these businesses.”

Harmony works to bridge the systemic gap between non-LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, advocating for these businesses to receive the same treatment as non-LGBTQ+ businesses. Kimber said by providing a resource promoting acceptance, inclusion, diversity and equity, LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs will finally be able to “have a seat at the table.”

“I do look forward to the day when we don’t need to have LGBT+ specific focused chambers or other organizations, not because they were outlawed or stripped away, but because they’re no longer necessary because we are working in harmony,” he offers. “I look forward to that day, but we are a long way from that [time].

“In the meantime, supporting and recognizing the need for LGBT chambers is the first step.”

related content

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *