William Michael Cunningham says the black community has a tradition of “passing the hat” to collect donations when a friend needs financial help. That same custom guides BlackCrowdfunding.net, a Web site Cunningham has created where black entrepreneurs can raise money to start businesses.

It’s one of many initiatives underway nationally, including several here in Washington, that aim to harness the potential of crowdfunding to benefit women and minority entrepreneurs.

For a variety of reasons, these groups have often struggled to tap more traditional financing mechanisms, such as bank loans and venture capital. Cunningham said that fact was compounded during the economic downturn as many black families lost wealth when home values soured and unemployment climbed.

“Most people start a business by taking out loans on their houses or going to friends and family and raising money that way,” Cunningham said. “If you’re in a demographic where your housing wealth has been impacted significantly negatively, then that’s less of an option with respect to raising capital.”

Crowdfunding presents a more promising option, he said. It allows an entrepreneur to raise money for his or her start-up online by collecting small investments or donations from a large number of people.

“The idea is that crowdfunding is a tool that can be used to get resources to low to moderate income communities in way that we haven’t seen before,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham will lead a four-week class on crowdfunding at the D.C. Hive, an entrepreneurial hub in Southeast D.C., beginning this week. He said the course will culminate with participants posting their ventures on BlackCrowdfunding.net.

Board departures

The changes continue at Arlington-based Rosetta Stone.

Washington business mogul Ted Leonsis will resign from the company’s board of directors, which he joined in 2009. A company news release describes Leonsis as “instrumental” in bringing chief executive Steve Swad to Rosetta Stone last year.

Tom Adams, Swad’s predecessor, has served as non-executive chairman since stepping down as chief executive. He will not seek re-election to the board.

John E. Lindahl, a managing partner at Northwest Equity Partners, will also leave the board. The firm first invested in Rosetta Stone in 2006.

The leadership changes come as Rosetta Stone pivots away from its CD-ROM business and instead focuses on delivering software via the Internet. The company also plans to expand its English language education and add programs for children.

Venture loan

Reston-based Razorsight received a $3 million loan from Horizon Technology Finance last week, an infusion of capital that the company will use to develop and commercialize software that helps communication providers improve profits.

Horizon Technology Finance provides secured loans to venture-backed companies. The firm opened an office in Reston last August and hired Todd McDonald as its first managing director for the mid-Atlantic area in an effort to beef up business in the region.