Comcast offers $10K grants to small businesses owned by people of color

Business on the 60th Street shopping corridor in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Business on the 60th Street shopping corridor in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Data shows businesses owned by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color have been hit hardest by the pandemic and these business owners say they have had a harder time accessing help.

Now, Comcast hopes to throw a much-needed $10,000 lifeline to some 500 businesses in Philadelphia, Chester, and four other metropolitan areas.

The grants are part of Comcast RISE, the company’s larger initiative to help business owners of color struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our hope is that they’ll reinvest those dollars to really help their businesses thrive, and that they’ll not only help their business, but it will help the community that they’re sitting within,” said Teresa Ward-Maupin, senior vice president for digital and customer experience at Comcast Business.

It’s the latest effort to help small businesses that have struggled to gain federal or state aid.

The five major metros — also including Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, and Houston — were chosen because research by the JP Morgan Chase Institute found they had some of the sharpest declines in local commerce spending.

To be eligible for the grants, a business has to have been in operation for at least three years with up to 25 employees. The owner or majority stakeholder has to be a person of color who makes day-to-day decisions in the business.

The application period runs from March 1 to March 14, and each metropolitan area will receive 100 grants. Selected businesses can use the funds however they see fit.

Comcast has also awarded more than $2 million dollars to organizations like the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, various chambers of commerce, and 20 community-based organizations in eligible cities to get the word out about the grant opportunity. These groups will also help the company offer training and mentorship.

Connie E. Evans, president and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, said the data is clear.

“Business owners of color are historically disadvantaged when accessing capital,” she said. “Now more than ever, it is important to invest in these small businesses, especially those in markets such as Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, and Philadelphia who have seen significant economic impact from the pandemic.”

Over the past year, businesses impacted by restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus have had to navigate a patchwork of federal, state, and private programs in the absence of a national plan.

Last week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation that set aside $145 million to struggling businesses. The money will be distributed to bars, restaurants, and hotels in grants of up $50,000. Still, that cash won’t be enough to help all 30,000 businesses in the hospitality industry, and mom-and-pop shops will be competing with others that have up to 300 employees on their payroll.

It’s a story that has repeated itself with every round of aid.

In March, Pennsylvania launched a low-interest loan program with the aim to help small businesses. Only 5% of those loans were received by people of color.

Last May, Philadelphia-area business leaders launched the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund after small businesses struggled to get access to federal Paycheck Protection Program funds. That program prioritized business owners of color.

There was also the Philadelphia COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund, which prioritized high poverty areas, and the Save Your Biz Philly initiative, which prioritized people of color.

Comcast RISE got involved last fall, helping more than 700 Black-owned businesses across the country, including more than 130 in Philadelphia, with consulting services or technology upgrades. Businesses could ask the Philadelphia-based media giant to help them run a 90-day TV campaign or receive computer equipment and internet upgrades for a year.

The company will announce a second wave of recipients in March. For this phase, Comcast opened applications to all business owners of color.

The grants and business support services are part of Comcast’s three-year plan, launched in June, to “fight injustice and inequality against any race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or ability.”

“With the first phase, it was all about ‘how can we help you recover? How can we help you sustain your business?’” said Ward-Maupin. “With this investment portion, it takes it a step further. ‘How can we help you grow wealth for your business?’”

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

Disclosure: WHYY has received funding from Comcast.

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