EY EAN Program Builds Leadership Skills of Black and Hispanic Entrepreneurs

The numbers tell the truth. Black and Hispanic/Latino entrepreneurs are a major economic force and growing. More than four million minority-owned companies generate sales of approximately $700 billion. These impressive numbers are despite the continued barriers to obtaining capital for business growth and landing corporate contracts. EY decided to do what it could to help minority executives break through these barriers and become leaders of growing companies by accelerating leadership skills development. The EY Entrepreneurs Access Network (EAN) program offers coaching by EY executives, a leadership development curriculum, and networking with investors, industry leaders, vendors, potential customers, and others. It is a remarkably productive program for minority executives who are already successful and ready to take their programs to the next level.


The voice of authority on EAN is Cynithea Reeder, whom everyone knows as Nit (pronounced Neat). Nit serves as the EY Americas Markets Communications Leader, however, her passion lies within her volunteer role as Director of the EY Entrepreneurs Access Network (EAN), of which she is a co-founding architect. EAN is a 12-month business accelerator program for Black and Hispanic/Latino CEOs and Founders of emerging and established diverse-owned companies. This business executive platform focuses on strengthening leadership skills through various approaches to grow and scale businesses. EAN components include assessments, one-on-one coaching with EY executives, a customized curriculum, online tools, networking events, and promotional exposure.

The program was the brainchild of Sam Johnson, EY Americas Vice Chair of Accounts. He noticed there was a lack of diversity in some EY programs. After research to understand why diversity was lacking, it became apparent that Black, Hispanic and Latino entrepreneurs faced more significant barriers than their counterparts.

Nit was not only qualified professionally to be the EAN Director, but she was also qualified personally. Her grandfather started the first Black-owned business on Main Street in Greenville, South Carolina in the 1960s. He was successful despite the many barriers he faced, including a lack of business connections and acumen, and funding. Nit’s grandfather had banked for over 20+ years at one bank, but when he decided to start a business, the bank turned down his funding request. He had to go to Atlanta to find the needed capital. Nit’s background led to her passion for helping diverse leaders break through these similar barriers that still exist 60 years later.


The EAN program is for Black and Hispanic/Latino founders, co-founders, CEOs and presidents of their companies. “We address the four C’s in the EAN program, which are coaching, curriculum, community, and capital alignment,” explains Nit. These areas are uniquely addressed through the lens of growing and expanding a minority-owned business.

The program is supported overall by the first C, which is one-on-one coaching by relationship ambassadors (RAs) who are EY leaders and professionals across various industries and geographies. “The RAs are a key ingredient to the secret sauce for EAN’s success. They provide access to their professional and personal networks,” says Nit. The ambassador's goal is to become a trusted strategic advisor to each participant, to help guide them throughout the full 12 -month term and some bonds continue after the program. Lee Henderson, Americas EY Private Leader and the EAN Executive Sponsor, is a relationship ambassador who helped highlight an EAN member in a national commercial. Lee is also one of the many EY partners and professionals committed to being a volunteer and ally of the program year over year, since its inception.

The second C is for the curriculum, which is customized to the stage of the participant’s business, with distinct parts that are based on the EY 7 Drivers of Growth, a framework designed to enable ambitious leaders to think differently about their business and growth strategy. The virtual and in-person learning sessions feature various external collaborators, including bank representatives, marketing and branding resources, venture capitalists, and government officials.

The third C, community, is a powerful component. EAN provides business leaders with a safe place to speak freely on the obstacles they face, with understanding peers. The program also provides EAN cohort members access to the broader EY entrepreneurial community. Participants are invited to events hosted by the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year R and the EY Entrepreneurial Winning WomenTM programs, which all share the mission of helping the ambitious innovate and lead.

The fourth C is capital alignment. EAN leverages the EY expansive network to align program participants with the right funding resources. To ensure the appropriate connections are made, Travis Lay, an EY Strategy and Transactions Senior Manager, volunteers as the EAN Capital Pillar Lead. Travis uses his deep knowledge and experience in mergers and acquisitions, venture capital and other funding transactions to add impact.

The program hosts four capital learning sessions each year, covering topics like leveraging certifications, obtaining capital, storytelling, approaching venture capitalists, and identifying capital needs. To date, EAN has aligned entrepreneurs with almost $27 million in funding support.


While business incubator programs are looking for companies, EAN is a business accelerator seeking leaders. The EAN four C's methodology is foundational in helping business leaders further develop or expand their current skills and perspectives for greater growth and scalability. “To grow and scale are not the same thing,” explains Nit. “You can grow business revenues, but scaling refers to expanding the business' footprint into new industries or geographies. Scaling is very intentional because it requires developing a new viewpoint and operating with a broader mindset.”

Whether a company's ambition is to go global, or not, having the broader mindset can lead to enhanced business acumen, greater industry learnings, strategic connections, technology insights and heightened leadership styles. Measuring the program's success includes companies that have grown due to program participation. Nit describes her experience with a program participant. “After a cohort member completed an EY 7 Drivers of Growth (7D) detailed session, at an EY sponsored conference, she shared that because of the 7D session, her company can potentially hire an additional 230 people to address expanded service needs.”

EY tools like 7D, entrepreneurs on-line library, C-suite conferences, disruptive technology learnings, EAN digital directory, environmental and social governance services, professional networks, and other various resources are an example of the investments EY has and continues to develop to help emerging and established enterprises sustain growth. In fact, an EAN participant attending one of the executive technology events said he was a better leader because it made him think differently about human capital. Instead of replacing people, he discovered the value in upskilling. Accelerator programs are great ways for CEOs and founders to expand their leadership capacity.

A natural question is: How does EY benefit from the EAN program? “First, DEI is in the DNA of EY. We understand the community impact and economic value of a more inclusive society," says Nit. "Secondly, there is also the opportunity for these emerging businesses to turn to EY in the future for more in depth support and services to further scale their company.” The EAN program builds loyalty, but Nit makes it clear that the goal of the EAN program is not to create future clients. The goal is to bring more equity to entrepreneurship, and by doing so, there is a ripple effect in communities. There will be more business growth, more jobs created in the communities served, more generational wealth, and more founders of new minority-owned businesses.


Nit is clear, “No one wants your handouts; they want your handshake. People should realize that working with diverse-owned businesses is strategic, not charity. It is strategic business.” The proof is in the EAN program success stories, and there are many.

Josie Lopez is the Co-Founder of Advancio, a talent solutions company. She helps businesses reach their full potential through high-skilled tech talent. She is also the co-founder of The Geeks Group which drives tech innovation and promotes sustainable development. Lopez describes her EAN program experience this way.

“The impact of the EY EAN Program on our business has been nothing short of transformative. The program's strategic insights and access have enabled us to achieve remarkable growth and operational efficiency over the last 12 months. Through the EY EAN Program, we've gained access to a wealth of industry expertise and cutting- edge tools that have allowed us to make informed decisions, optimize our processes, and drive innovation across our organization. One such resource is the EY Tech University. Shout out to the team for identifying the need and proactively creating a program that ignites curiosity and pushes the boundaries of what is possible. If I had to summarize and say what the biggest takeaway is, it is the emphasis on collaboration and partnership that has helped us forge new connections and networks that have expanded our reach and market presence. The strategic guidance, resources, and opportunities have enabled us to elevate our business to new levels of excellence.”


Navigating the terrain as a diverse female leader comes with unique challenges. It's a battle to claim our rightful place at the decision-making table while wrestling with our internal struggles of self-doubt and the imposter syndrome. Simultaneously, we are driven by the mission to sow the seeds of change for the generations to come, bridging the gap of generational debt.

In the context of these complex dynamics, the program's most profound impact on my leadership journey has been the access and embrace of a network of peers who intimately comprehend the daily battles we face. This alliance has empowered me with a newfound wellspring of self- assurance — confidence not only in myself but also in the strengths of my colleagues. It has emboldened me to question established mindsets and conventions, and to embrace the role of an agent for positive change.


The EAN Program has been a transformative experience for our company, granting access to tools and resources previously beyond our reach due to financial constraints. With the guidance of EY staff members, we've been able to navigate a vast array of services that have facilitated our scaling efforts. As a result, we are now poised to grow exponentially and enhance our competitiveness and wealth-building potential. The connections within our EAN alumni group, especially among successful Black and Latino business owners, have been another invaluable aspect. The courage, network, and access to EY's clients and services provided through EAN have been priceless.


Participating in the program has dramatically enriched my ability to lead and manage a multimillion-dollar enterprise. The training throughout the program not only sharpened my existing leadership skills but also helped me devise a strategic plan to expand our business. The growth in my leadership abilities has been palpable, and I attribute much of this progress to the insights and experiences I gained through the program.

Eric and Ryan Cruz lead Muvez, which produces slip-on shoes with removable insoles. They just closed on a round of private funding. Eric says the knowledge he gained through the EAN program guided him in working with investors, one of the most challenging aspects of business sustainability.

A cross-marketing partnership between Nancey Harris, Co-Founder and COO of Vontélle, a producer of fashion-forward eyewear, and Waleed Cope, Founder and CEO of The Soap Box, a firm offering premium garment and sneaker care services, revealed untapped potential and paved the way for both to grow. Harris and Cope met through EAN.

Waleed Cope and EAN alum Jessica Johnson-Cope own and run The Soap Box. Walmart Markers Studio recently hired the Soap Box to perform sneaker cleaning for the Rock The Bells concert. Effectively leveraging data has been a key piece of the entrepreneurs' successful business strategy – whether for marketing or decision-making around product offerings. Through the relationship with EY, Waleed Cope has been able to access key insights and apply those best practices to the business, accelerating its growth. In fact, due to relationships fostered by EAN, the Soap Box will soon be venturing to another state.


These are just a few examples of how the EAN program enables Black and Hispanic/Latino entrepreneurs to grow and scale their businesses. Encouraging and strengthening diverse entrepreneurs will strengthen communities, and stronger communities will build more robust economies. EY and its entrepreneurial ecosystem is making change happen by providing the exact resources the entrepreneurs need to succeed. The EAN program is for the ambitious, who believe a handshake representing broadscale support for enterprises can help diverse entrepreneurs achieve new heights. Just ask the 289 founders already members of the EAN community.