By Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA
SPONSORED – Small businesses are the backbone of any local economy and are the clearest indicator of neighborhood health and vitality. On the foothills of the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses are not yet in the clear as they are now facing compounding issues hampering success. Supply chain issues, record inflation, rising costs of operation, a shifting landscape of hybrid work environments, increased lending rates, and adapting to become more competitive in the hiring process are just some of the mounting challenges looming in their doors. In other words, the pandemic was just one of many growing issues that place barriers to small business growth and long-term success.
GSBA, Washington State’s LGBTQ and allied chamber of commerce frequently convenes a diverse collection of voices from all industries to truly listen and understand the concerns of the business community. We then work to connect them with the tools and resources they need in the moment to succeed. More than that, we understand all too well that access to resources is not equitable for minority-owned businesses, specifically LGBTQ+-owned, BIPOC-owned, or women-owned businesses.
The disparity in equitable access to financial resources was further laid bare during the pandemic when LGBTQ+-owned businesses were reported less likely to receive PPP funding, resulting in loss of community mainstays, delayed resources, and the preventable closure of many LGBTQ+-owned small businesses. These closures have had deep and lasting impacts on the communities these businesses served and slowed the advancement of LGBTQ+ equality in business and financial inclusion in local economies. When minority-owned businesses are locked out of resources, it has real and devastating impacts on the future prospects of entire neighborhoods and cities.
That is why GSBA, in partnership with Comcast, established the Ready for Business Fund in 2020. The Ready for Business Fund microgrants were initially intended as a pandemic recovery fund, but have now become a sustainability fund that prioritizes support for LGBTQ+-, BIPOC-, and women-owned small businesses. The Ready for Business Fund offers low-barrier and no-cost access to microgrants that allow small business owners in need to invest in their business the best way they see fit.
It has been incredible for me to see the response of corporate partners and local governments responding to dire small business conditions. Comcast was first to step up and seed the Ready for Business Fund, and after demonstrated success of the program, several other corporations came forward. Pepsi, T-Mobile, US Bank, Meta, and Verity Credit Union, as well as King County Councilmember Joe McDermott have pledged additional funding to allow the program to continue to support local small business owners in need.
We are continuing to award grants to many of the businesses that apply. Beloved local sustainable and trans-owned restaurant Café Flora is among the recipients for this round, as well as The Wildrose, one of only a handful of lesbian bars left in the entire country. Other recipients of the grants are A.L.A. Consulting Firm, a women-owned, Black-owned micro-business, as well as NW Roofing Services, a trans-owned, women-owned business in Snohomish County. In fact, accounting for intersectional identities, of the small business grants awarded, 84% identified as an LGBTQ+-owned business, 49% as a BIPOC-owned business, 69% as a women-owned business, 17% as a trans-owned business, and 13% as an immigrant-owned business.
There is no one single solution to the challenges the small business community is facing right now. The solutions need to be as nuanced, unique, and abundant as the number of businesses they seek to help. The Ready for Business Fund is just one resource, albeit a well-timed and suitable resource for the moment. However, we are a long way from closing the gap of inequities of access to financial resources for LGBTQ+-owned, BIPOC-owned, or women-owned businesses.
With the help of partners like Comcast, other corporations, and local government we are making progress to leveling the playing field for small business owners in these trying financial times. Visit https://thegsba.org/business-resources/ready-for-business to learn more about the GSBA Ready for Business Fund, how to apply as a small business owner, or how to get involved as a funding partner. There you will also be able to hear testimonials of some of the small businesses that have received a grant and what it meant for their business. Our next round of applications will open in mid-2023 and fundraising for the next round has already begun and we are looking for more contributors to support our business community.