$1M small business grant aimed at assisting underserved communities

Rob Alexander, Executive Director of the Small Business Development Center in Springfield.
Caption
Rob Alexander, Executive Director of the Small Business Development Center in Springfield.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Springfield’s Small Business Development Center was recently awarded $1 million to better support business owners and entrepreneurs from traditionally marginalized or underserved communities.

The money will come in the form of a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and will be used to launch and support a two year pilot program.

The program, called “Level the Field,” will see Springfield’s SBDC partnering with nine grass roots organizations that already work with various communities in the city.

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That partnership and grant funding will allow for each of those organizations to create a paid position to connect with business owners from marginalized or historically underrepresented communities.

As a group, the nine Community Navigators will be tasked with helping minority business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs obtain at least $1 million in funded loans and create a total of at least 40 new jobs each year of the grant.

The grant itself will help create and support a total of 10 full time positions. The goal is to have those positions filled by the beginning of 2022, said the Springfield SBDC Executive Director Rob Alexander

The application, submitted over the summer, described the pilot program as a “truly grassroots approach to reaching out to Springfield’s toughest-to-engage entrepreneurs and connecting them with the myriad services and supports that are ready and eager to help them start, sustain, or grow their small business.”

“Level the Field is all about one word: trust,” Alexander said. “If a business owner doesn’t trust that someone is in their corner and wants to help them, they’re never going to give them the opportunity to prove them wrong.”

The goal is to build trust through the newly created Community Navigator positions with each of the nine nonprofits that will be involved, according to a news release from the Springfield SBDC.

Grant funding will mainly be focused on minority and ex-offender owned businesses as well as businesses located in or owned by people who live on the south side of Springfield. But the plan also calls for Community Navigators who will focus on rural, aging, disabled, and immigrant entrepreneurs as well, the news release added.

“We wanted to target business owners who face tremendous obstacles when it comes to accessing the help they need,” Alexander said. “These are people who don’t have bankers, accountants, and attorneys telling them how to do things correctly or pointing them toward resources that could help them put more money in their pocket.”

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The nine nonprofit partners that the local SBDC will work with includes Springfield Promise Neighborhood, 1159 South Community Development, Clark County Local Food Council, Conscious Connect, Welcome Springfield, Del Pueblo, Developmental Disabilities of Clark County, United Senior Services, and Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC).

“This grant comes at the time when many minority businesses are struggling and entrepreneurs look to start their own businesses as an alternative after losing their jobs because of the pandemic,” said Manuel Lopez of Del Pueblo, Inc. His organization focuses on the local Hispanic community.

“This grant will make sure that they receive the support that will help them succeed during these hard times,” he added.

Kali Lawrence of the Springfield Promise Neighborhood said the program will also help make starting and owning a business a reality for residents in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the city.

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