Almost 250 small businesses received grants of $10,000 on Thursday as part of Verizon’s $7.5 million Small Business Recovery Fund to help struggling businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic. Of the recipients, 62% are women-owned businesses, 96% are minority-owned, 12% are veteran-owned, and 87% are in distressed locations.
“Verizon recognizes how valuable small businesses are and that the economic stability of our communities is based on their success,” said Rose Stuckey Kirk, chief corporate social responsibility officer of Verizon, in a statement. “It’s critical that we lean in and support these businesses so they can continue to sustain themselves during this unprecedented time of need.”
Verizon provided the grant money to a nonprofit partner with “deep experience in community development and disaster response”—the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC).
More than 55,000 entrepreneurs applied for the grants. Applicants were scored through a system developed by LISC to “prioritize women/minority/veteran owned businesses, underinvested neighborhoods, and geographic diversity.” The top 3,000 applicants were then entered into a lottery to determine the pool of semi-finalists, who were further evaluated to identify the first round of recipients.
“Entrepreneurs all across the country need capital right now to protect their businesses, jobs, and local economies,” Maurice A. Jones, LISC president and CEO, told Black Enterprise by email.
“We are focusing our funding on economically vulnerable communities, which tend to have a large number of women-owned, minority-owned, and veteran-owned businesses, because they are often unable to access traditional relief programs,” he says. “We have to be intentional about investing in their future to ensure our national recovery succeeds.”
DeShanta Black of Pennington, Alabama, founded Humble Beginnings Beauty & Boutique four years ago, though her love of doing hair started when she was just 9 years old. Her career was sidetracked after cosmetology school by a lupus diagnosis. But after getting her condition managed through medication, she decided that entrepreneurship was the answer.
“I decided that I’m not gonna let that stop me from accomplishing my dreams and goals. I knew that, having my own business, I had the flexibility of setting my own hours,” she says. “It has its ups and downs because you have flare-ups with lupus but I do what I can and I’m appreciative of my clients, because they understand that there may be times that I just can’t do hair.”
With her salon now closed by stay-at-home orders because of COVID-19, Black has pivoted to sewing masks to sell and to distribute for free to nursing homes and workers on the front lines in her rural community.
Black, who learned of the Verizon grant while scrolling through Facebook, plans to put the money toward a storefront so she can generate more revenue, more clients, and more exposure. “I am just grateful for Verizon and LISC,” she says. “It’s hard for me being a minority as well as a female to obtain loans and grants. This opportunity isn’t afforded every day, so I’m very appreciative of that.”
The up to $7.5 million Verizon has pledged reflects an additional $2.5 million it added this week, ensuring that there will be not only a second, but a third round of grant recipients. “The overwhelming response received from the first round of applicants stressed the urgent need for additional funding,” said Stuckey Kirk.
In addition to the fund, Verizon has been rallying support for businesses affected by COVID-19 through a weekly Pay It Forward streaming series, as well as partnerships with Hello Alice and American Express’ “Stand for Small” program, a free webinar series, and a free one-year subscription to Yahoo’s Business Maker.