Interview with the founders of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce

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By Malissa Rogers

Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell co-founded the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to serve as an advocate organization for businesses and to provide a direct link between LGBT business owners, corporations and government. Nelson, NGLCC’s President, and Mitchell, the organization’s CEO, discuss their goals with the organization as well as their own personal lives in an exclusive interview with dot429. 

What is the NGLCC responsible for and what are some of the daily tasks you perform?

Nelson: As president and co-founder for NGLCC, I am responsible not only for the mission and drive of the organization, but also for the public engagement in the private and public sector. Being located in DC, we spend a lot of time meeting with federal agencies and are now working very hard to open up the federal procurement system – the $100 billion the U.S. government spends every year buying goods and services from small businesses – to LGBT companies for inclusion. 

In addition, we have been consistent advocates before Congress, the White House and agencies on issues ranging from taxes, healthcare reform, and repealing DOMA, to successfully winning approval of the Small Business Jobs Act, championing President Obama’s National Export Initiative, and partnering with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the National Black Justice Coalition to deliver the “Many Faces, One Dream Tour.” 

What is the “Many Faces, One Dream Tour?”

Nelson: The tour will target LGBT business owners and entrepreneurs of color in 13 cities and provide two days of intensive workshops designed to start, strengthen, and grow their businesses to scale.

What was the specific reason you founded NGLCC and how did you envision the organization?

Nelson: We started the organization because we realized no one had really considered the economic equality of LGBT people or the impact economics could have on the equality movement. We wanted to showcase that LGBT people were business owners, employers, taxpayers, providers of healthcare – that we were in fact a vibrant part of the small business engine that makes the U.S. economy run and therefore, we deserved a place at table. 

Mitchell: We also established NGLCC to champion opportunities to connect businesses around the country and increasingly the globe to do business with one another and to become diverse suppliers to some of America’s top corporations.

Who does the NGLCC represent and how do you help those you represent? 

Nelson: NGLCC represents the interests of the estimated 1.4 million LGBT business owners in the United States. We have a network of 32 U.S. based affiliate chamber and 17 international affiliate organizations. 

Our most recent international affiliate is the Colombia LGBT Chamber of Commerce that we launched in October of 2012 during our first-ever U.S. Government certified LGBT Trade Mission. This is important because 95% of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S. and NGLCC is working hard to ensure that LGBT businesses have the tools and opportunities to break into these markets.

What do you want people to know about the NGLCC that they may not be aware of?

Mitchell: NGLCC is celebrating our 10th anniversary, and we are always amazed by how it has grown through the years. 2012 was a major growth year for NGLCC as we experienced a 48% growth in conference attendance and a 72% growth in LGBT business that became certified to compete for diverse contract opportunities. 

What is the best part about your jobs?

Nelson: For me knowing that we are helping businesses owners succeed and helping the LGBT community build legacy wealth. I love the opportunity I have been given to champion LGBT businesses so they can grow, land a corporate contract, add new employee or open a second location. 

Of course, its cool to be able to meet with Secretary Clinton or President Obama or Commerce Secretary Blank and others, but the real reward in that is knowing LGBT business people now have a seat at the table, not only on LGBT equality issues, but on issues that affect the rest of our lives, like the health of the economy, healthcare, immigration, trade policy, and a host of other issues where we’ve not been represented before. 

Mitchell: It hard to narrow the best part to one single area or event, but really the most rewarding part is all of the relationships I have developed over our 10 years in business. NGLCC is more than a business organization, it’s a family and I would not trade these relationships for anything. I find that if you approach relationships with an authenticity and real interest in developing a friendship then the business aspects come together naturally. 

What challenges have either of you faced within your career or with NGLCC?

Mitchell: Starting a business can be daunting in and of itself, but entrepreneurs are some of the most innovative and driven people you’ll meet. I think the biggest obstacle was overcoming skeptics, not only in the mainstream business community, but also in our own community. 

There was a great deal of education we had to provide early on to get Fortune 500 companies and more recently government decision makes to understand that LGBT people are more than just “LGBT” and that we build effective companies and that inclusion of LGBT businesses in contracting opportunities was not only the right thing to do, but made smart economic sense. 

Can you both tell me a bit about your personal lives, outside of NGLCC?

Nelson: When you’re an entrepreneur, you laugh at the idea of personal life—but we try to make it a priority for us and our team to enjoy life outside of work. I have the best friends in the world and do a lot of things with them – travel, movies, debate politics. I also have a great dog and I grew up in Wyoming so I am also an avid outdoorsman – camping, skiing, boating, etc. 

Mitchell: When you are the co-founder of an organization I am not sure it’s possible to fully separate out a personal life from a work life. They are intricately intertwined, in a very positive and fulfilling way. In my spare time I enjoy traveling and reading books on topics in business and quantum physics. I also really value my downtime to just hang out with friends, catch a movie or throw on some sweatpants and a t-shirt and watch some mindless TV. 

What do you think the future looks like for LGBT equality? What are some of your viewpoints on current issues (President Obama’s inaugural address, DOMA and Proposition 8 going to the Supreme Court, etc.)?

Mitchell: We were with Team NGLCC on the Capitol lawn on January 21 to hear the President’s enduring words: “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.” With such a bold claim in his inaugural address, we are all excited to see what new advances for the LGBT community President Obama will make in his second term. 

In addition to attending the swearing-in ceremony, we were honored to be invited to several meetings and celebrations throughout the weekend. Chance and I were thrilled to be among 150 guests at Vice President Biden’s house on January 20, where he thanked LGBT and progressive leaders for our role in supporting President Obama. But as the President said in his address, our journey is not complete.

What are your feelings about the current issues going before the Supreme Court?

Nelson: While we should be cautiously optimistic about actions by the Supreme Court we cannot quit moving forward with repealing DOMA because we can’t just cross our fingers and hope they decide the right thing. We also need to work on expanding anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity across all federal contractors as well as full inclusion of LGBT businesses in the federal contractor pool. 

What are some goals that you set that you have reached?

Nelson: Our goal was really to create an organization that could support LGBT business owners and showcase the diversity of talent in our community. We have succeeded in large part due to an amazing team and board combined with the caliber of businesses, corporate partners, and individuals that have become involved with us over the years.  

We have created a best-in-class diversity certification program and we are now the exclusive national third-party certifying body for LGBT-owned businesses, similar to the National Minority Supplier Development Council and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council for ethnic minority and women-owned businesses respectively. 

What are your future goals for NGLCC?

Mitchell: We currently have 140 corporate partners that are looking to do business with LGBT certified firms. Our goals going forward are to continue to increase the number of companies that have LGBT as a diverse category for doing business and to create even more peer-to-peer contracting and teaming opportunities. We also want to continue to strengthen our network of local affiliate chambers that are doing amazing work in their communities. 

Find out more about the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce here. 

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