Seeking Seed Money

Grants for starting a small business are available through a variety of local sources. Here's how to get them.

Rozalia Williams recalls the day she was awarded a small business grant in 2001 from the Miami Dade Empowerment Trust. She and the other eligible competitors had given presentations and she was now sitting with her fingers crossed under the table, waiting anxiously for the vote on which entrepreneurs would take home grants. “When the vote passed, I wanted to get up and do a happy dance, but I restrained myself. It was an awesome feeling,” says Williams, founder and president of Hidden Curriculum Education Inc., a company that offers a college life skills course. She started the Miami-based business in 2000 and her 26-year-old son, Myron Davis is her business manager.

The $72,500 grant Williams received was a godsend. With it, she was able to go into the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Dade County and give her two-day college prep course, which focuses on topics such as choosing a college, campus life, setting goals, and more. Prior to receiving the grant, Williams, 51, was financing Hidden Curriculum out of her own pocket. “Each pay period I would buy something. First I paid for the brochures and then I paid for my business cards, letterhead, and envelopes. And when I had enough people for a class, I would run out and buy just enough binders and get the inserts printed,” she recalls. Williams estimates that she spent some $2,500 of her own money to get her business off the ground.

She got the grant on her first attempt after seeing an advertisement about the grant competition in the Miami Herald. A former higher education administrator with an Ed.D. from Harvard, Williams wrote the grant proposal herself, relying on her experience with grant writing for the Department of Education. “The grant selection process was very formal. I had to have my act together before I even started writing,” says Williams.

Just reading the 25-page application was a task. Even though she had experience with grant writing, Williams was amazed at how much was required. She needed to produce affidavits and notarized documents, and provide her federal employer identification number and corporate certification. She had to write about her company’s history, goals, and track record, and explain why she was qualified to provide the service. Then she had to explain why her services were needed, how they would address the needs of the neighborhood, who would be served, how much it would cost, and how the program would be implemented and evaluated. A specific number of words was required for each answer. “Every t had to be crossed and every i dotted,” remarks Williams. Working on the application was stressful, but Williams says she “was very excited because I felt like I had a chance, that I was qualified, that I just might get the grant.” It took her the better part of a month to complete the process.

After being awarded the grant and conducting her college prep course in four neighborhoods over a three-year period, Williams applied for a $100,000 loan from the

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