Rhode Island Coalition of Business Service Organizations Receives Groundbreaking $1 Million SBA Community Navigator Grant

Utilizing a “hub and spoke” model the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program will equip and empower Rhode Island’s historically underserved entrepreneurs

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PROVIDENCE, RI, USA —   A groundbreaking Coalition of the State’s leading Business Support Organizations (BSOs) with a collective, long-standing and trusted track record of effectively serving Women and BIPOC-led small businesses was awarded $1 Million from the innovative SBA Community Navigator Pilot Program. This  grant is one of only 51 awards from more than 700 applicants nationally, and is the only Rhode Island based award.  

The grant is structured as a “Hub and Spoke” model in order to create supportive networks to assist historically underserved small businesses and entrepreneurs to effectively navigate the complex landscape of services required to launch, pivot, and recover from the impacts of the pandemic. Social Enterprise Greenhouse will serve as the grant’s administrative Hub with a number of Spoke organizations including Center for Southeast Asians, the RI Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hope & Main, the Multicultural Innovation Center, and the Rhode Island Black Business Association.  

For the past 18 months, members of the Coalition have been on the front lines of the State’s effort to assist thousands of small and micro-business owners to maneuver through grant and loan applications and other programs released in urgent response to the devastating impacts of COVID-19. 

Says Oscar Mejias, Founder and CEO of the Rhode Island Hispanic Chamber, “Our Coalition came together to coordinate Statewide outreach and to reduce redundancy and confusion for our clients. A great example of collaboration is our work with Hope & Main to ensure that a number of our members were included in a grant program developed for restaurants seeking alternative revenue streams during the COVID lockdown called DishUp RI. Lisa Raiola, President of Hope & Main said, “Our partnership with the RI Hispanic Chamber helped us to reach many Hispanic food-preneurs who might not otherwise have accessed the technical assistance we provided to help restaurant owners to make consumer packaged products they could sell in grocery stores. Many of these restaurants were hit hard by COVID, and the DishUp RI  program helped them to find new pathways forward.” 

This SBA award will enable Coalition members to formalize collaboration efforts and to better leverage the diverse strengths each BSO has in terms of neighborhood reach, language, industry expertise, cultural competence, and programs designed for various stages in the business lifecycle.  The funding will also allow the Coalition to invest in systems and processes to better recruit and engage the community, effectively coordinate comprehensive services for both the small business and the owner, as well as to track and report on metrics and outcomes.  

“After years of competing for small grant funding as individual agencies, this Coalition is working together cohesively. These funds will provide our organizations a level of stability to offer the broader minority business communities comprehensive services, expanded networks and resources.” says Maryann Mathews, Executive Director of the MultiCultural Innovation Center. Channavy Chhay, Executive Director of the Center for Southeast Asians agrees, adding, “COVID has had devastating and disproportionate impacts on our clients. We make it a point to meet them where they are to ensure they not only receive funds and benefits they are entitled to, but also the vital social supports necessary to recover and thrive.  With the Community Navigator grant, we aim to expand our model to the broader community served by the Coalition.” 

 “The SBA Community Navigator grant is a great win for Rhode Island entrepreneurs and small businesses, said Lisa Ranglin, Founder and CEO of Rhode Island Black Business Association, “especially those businesses owned by people of color that have been historically unable to access necessary resources and contract opportunities to thrive and scale.  This Coalition enables business support groups to build capacity, widen their reach, and harness the strengths and resources of our partnering groups to drive positive changes within the BIPOC business community. This grant will help us deliver much-needed short-term relief, and strategic support needed to help minority entrepreneurs and small businesses launch, grow and scale for the long term.”  

Says Kelly Ramirez, CEO of Social Enterprise Greenhouse,  “We plan to leverage the Community Navigator pilot learnings, capacity, and systems,  to support the entire coalition whose additional members include the Center for Women and Enterprise, Fuerza Laboral, One Neighborhood Builders, and the Small Business Development Corporation. In fact, we are eager to welcome other business support organizations to join this collaborative effort.”  

About the Community Navigator Pilot Program:  Utilizing a “hub and spoke” model from public health care federal programming, the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program will help level the playing field for America’s entrepreneurs, especially our underserved women, people of color, veterans, and rural and low-income communities. Grantee “hubs” will serve as centralized, lead organizations, and will incorporate “spokes” to leverage partnerships with deeply trusted community-based organizations to help small businesses navigate government resources and tap into critical resources.

Press Contacts:  

Channavy Chhay channavy.chhay@cseari.org or (401) 274-811

Oscar Mejias omejias@rihispanicchamber.org or (401) 400-1340

Maryann Mathews mathews@micat570.com or (401) 413-6488

Lisa Ranglin Lisa@ri-bba.org or (401) 465-3669

Lisa Raiola, lisa@makefoodyourbusiness.org or (401) 297-7294

Kelly Ramirez, kramirez@segreenhouse.org  or (401) 749-7238