Michigan Women Forward’s Resilience Fund helps small businesses regain financial footing

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many small business owners to grapple with financial uncertainty. The nonprofit Michigan Women Forward aims to help entrepreneurs regain their footing through grants, loans, and practical advice.

MWF launched in May its $1.5 million Michigan Entrepreneur Resilience Fund to help businesses in the state that are significantly impacted by the pandemic but unable to receive traditional funding.

“The goal of this fund is to be able to service individuals who are low to moderate income and also who are minorities,” says Judy Welch, executive director West Michigan of Michigan Women Forward, which has offices in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit. Of the 147 grants already awarded, 121 grantees are female, 26 are male, 86% are low to moderate income, and 50.6% are minorities.

With the monetary backing of the Michigan Economic Development Corp, New Economy Initiative, Michigan-based foundations, corporate partners, and individual donations, the Resilience Fund has provided $1,000 to $5,000 grants to assist with reopening or revamping business models and $5,000 to $10,000 micro loans with a one- to three-year repayment period with an 8% fixed rate.

Grant applications closed July 8, however applications for $5,000 to $10,000 loans are still accepted. The MWF has its eye on providing additional grants later in the year.

Funds can be used to pay rent, make payroll, purchase inventory, and more. A complete list of how the money may be used can be found here.

“We believe we haven’t even touched the surface,” Welch says. “Our goal is to continue to have MWF be relevant to help these companies. We’re working right now with the Michigan Small Business Restart Grant and I’ve been in touch with The Right Place, so we’re going to pass the applicants on to them to see if there’s any way they can continue until we can obtain more funding for these companies.”

To qualify for a grant or loan, business owners must have generated revenue for at least 12 months; have to demonstrate how COVID-19 has impacted their businesses; have fewer than 50 employees; are unable to secure a loan from a bank or credit union; and earn less than $500,000 in annual revenue. A complete list of requirements can be found here.

“We raised $1.5 million to help geographically disadvantaged areas to survive the outbreak and with the recovery effort,” Welch says. “That’s the main thing.”

The businesses the Resilience Fund have helped include hair salons, construction companies, manufacturers, spas, restaurants, graphic designers, florists, coffee shops, and more.

To date, the MWF has approved 147 grants from a pool of 11,050 applicants for a total of $649,550 with another $150,000 to $200,000 yet to award, plus 34 loans totaling $242,500. “The balance of the (Resilience) Fund will be used for loans,” says Welch.

Most businesses that receive funds likely need to implement the Centers for Disease Control guidelines before re-opening. These include, but are not limited to, manufacturers, hair salons, restaurants, and coffee shops.

“Every one of these companies, whether a hair salon or manufacturing company, has to think about how they’re going to change their (business) model to stay open,” Welch says. “You have to think about all these different ways of conducting business that you didn’t have to before. It’s all about continuing to be safe, not only for your employees but also for your customers.”

Clearly, it’s not just money that keeps the wolf away from entrepreneurs’ doors, Welch adds. That’s why the collective muscle of MWF, MEDC, Consumers Energy Foundation, NEI, and others will step in with advice.

“Our plan is to follow up with each on a quarterly basis, starting this September, to check in how they are doing and to see what other support we can offer them,” Welch says. Funding is just the beginning, we plan to offer an opportunity for entrepreneurs to be paired with experts to help answer questions and guide their decision making during this critical time.”

Photo courtesy Michigan Women Forward.
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