- The Small Business Association (SBA) is expanding the number of Women Business Centers.
- This expansion will focus on minority communities and HBCU student and alumni founders.
- A $48 million budget increase will add 20 new business centers.
Small business owners had very little time to prepare for the series of shutdowns and lost revenue in the early months of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic upended business and society. As clients and customers bunkered down in their homes, business owners were forced to make harsh pivots, many of them laying off workers, reducing operating hours, or shutting down indefinitely.
By April, relief was on its way for millions of small businesses by way of the Small Business Administration tasked with deploying the $349 billion Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness initiative as part of federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (C.A.R.E.S.).
Other segments of the SBAs small business support programs received a boost in funding, including its Women's Business Centers. Since 1988, the SBA has been counseling, advising, and providing free training to women starting or growing their small businesses through a national collection of women business centers. Today, over 140 WBCs operate across the country—more than 20 of which were added this year alone, thanks to an added $48 million in CARES funding on top of their annual $70 million budget.
According to Natalie Cofield, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Women’s Business Ownership, who was appointed to the role in early Spring, through these centers, the SBA has assisted in over 80,000 hours of small business consulting in 2020 alone.
“COVID has impacted businesses serving organizations and small businesses,” Cofield told The Plug. “We’ve funded 14 new women’s business centers in equitable disbursements of $200,000 each to help these centers continue their programs and run initiatives to help small businesses deal with COVID.”
Included in the round up of national women business centers include spaces designed to serve the local business and academic communities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities like Alcorn State and Jackson State Universities (Mississippi), Winston Salem State University (North Carolina), and Benedict College (South Carolina).
Last month, the government agency announced a $150,000 grant toward the opening of a center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Included in the expansion of its centers, the SBA has its eyes on supporting Latina entrepreneurs. “We’ve doubled down on our commitments to ensure that Latina entrepreneurs have the resources they need. In Puerto Rico, we’ve announced two new centers—one of the biggest investments from the SBA on the island,” Cofield told The Plug.
Knowledge of the SBA’s work through the small business administration is limited, as many entrepreneurs may not be aware of the various initiatives and programs the SBA supports—including its six-year $5 million investment in its Growth Accelerator Fund Competition that awards entrepreneurship support organizations that take an inclusive approach to supporting entrepreneurs in research and development goals.
“We know there’s more that we can do to close the knowledge gap of what we provide here at the SBA. There are over 12 million small businesses run by women, with a great deal of Black and brown women remaining the foundation of the care economy,” Cofield said. “We’re asking ourselves, how can our office empower more women to become entrepreneurs in the spaces in which they serve?”.