CSUSB center awarded a $200K grant from Bank of America to aid underserved, minority-led businesses

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A $200,000 grant to primarily help underserved Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) businesses in the inland Southern California region disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic has been awarded to the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship (IECE) at Cal State San Bernardino by Bank of America.

The grant will go toward funding three new programs for minority entrepreneurs designed to help the region’s small businesses recover from and prepare for any future economic challenges. The Bank of America grant is expected to enable the IECE to help approximately 250 business owners — a majority of which are BIPOC — to create or sustain about 650 jobs and create an economic impact of nearly $4 million.

The year-long grant is designed to help area small businesses recover and build more resiliency into their operations so that any future economic challenges are possible to withstand, said Michael Stull, program director of the IECE, director of the CSUSB School of Entrepreneurship and a CSUSB professor of entrepreneurship.

“BIPOC small businesses are among the fastest-growing segment of our local economy but were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The support of the Bank of America Foundation is incredibly well-timed, as the resources will be utilized to help these businesses rebuild and respond to new market opportunities,” said Michael Stull, program director of the IECE, director of the CSUSB School of Entrepreneurship and a CSUSB professor of entrepreneurship. “As the largest provider of entrepreneurial support services in the Inland Empire, we are excited to have this opportunity to deliver programs that will help build a more resilient and successful small business community.”

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“As the nation’s leading small business bank, we know firsthand the challenges that entrepreneurs have faced the past two years, especially minority-run businesses disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” said Bansree Parikh, president of Bank of America Inland Empire and business banking market executive. “We have the opportunity, thanks to programs like those offered by the IECE, to help hundreds of local companies build resiliency and experience an equitable recovery. We’re excited to work with the IECE in these efforts.”

Small businesses (those employing less than 100 people) make up approximately 97% of total businesses in the region (over 74,000 businesses) and are a critical component of the Inland Empire economy. Those businesses have been the most at risk since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Given the high concentration of small businesses in the region that are in the service, retail and tourism industries, and that 81% of jobs in these industries were deemed ‘non-essential,’ these small businesses have been particularly hard hit due to required closures and the constant changing regulations during the pandemic,” said Stull. “Local small businesses have been most at risk in terms of resources and expertise to navigate the challenges. The economic consequences are dire without any lifeline to support them in dealing with the ongoing challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.”

During the initial stages of the pandemic, the IECE concentrated on helping small business owners with applications for federal and state loans, employee retention and access to other COVID-related resources, Stull said.

“Simply put, we were trying to help these small businesses weather the storm and keep their doors open, every step of the way,” Stull said.

According to the grant proposal, as a result of the center’s work with area small businesses, IECE learned that small businesses and owners were:

  1. Confused and unsure of how to comply with reopening guidelines and implement safety plans, a problem that is still ongoing;
  2. Not prepared to access federal and local assistance programs, including loans and grants, and did not have current business and/or contingency plans in place;
  3. Did not have the expertise or knowledge on how to “pivot” their businesses and position the business for success and sustainability through virtual or other operating modes;
  4. In “panic mode” and experiencing an emotional roller coaster both personally and professionally often paralyzed with indecision and didn’t know how to respond to the situation; and
  5. More at risk due to not being able to readily access resources, such as technology equipment, access to the internet and expanded bandwidth, which have limited the ability of many of these owners to retain services.

To help these businesses recover and move forward, the center will create three specific programs to help existing and aspiring business owners – particularly minority-owned firms – recover from the pandemic and build sustainable resilience to navigate and survive future economic challenges.

The programs include:

  • An intensive training program to teach the fundamentals of small business management and introduce business owners to the various processes and expectations, specifically with a financial readiness focus, when applying for small businesses and recovery loans;
  • A program to introduce key ideas and concepts that lead to growth for entrepreneurial companies and enable entrepreneurs to apply new skills, approaches and knowledge to their current business venture. The result is companies that are better prepared to compete, grow and create new jobs; and
  • A peer mentoring program that provides opportunities for minority-owned small businesses to tap into the power of fellow business owners through an advisory and educational experience. The program will build strong and lasting connections for new and existing business owners and help them gain insight regarding best practices, gaining confidence and competency in managing and operating a small business.

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