Micro-Grants Help Small Businesses Survive COVID-19

May 17, 2020

A deserted South Westnedge Avenue in Kalamazoo early in the pandemic
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

A new program could help some small businesses in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek get through the coronavirus pandemic.

In Kalamazoo, the United Way and the city say the "Micro-enterprise Grant Program" is aimed at companies with up to ten employees generating up to a million dollars a year that have been in business for at 12 months.

Chris Sargent is the president and CEO of the United Way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo.

"We now are creating this grant fund that creates opportunities for businesses to be able to have working capital to support things like payroll and rent and mortgage and utilities, as well as potentially the resources they need to open back up once the stay at home order either has been lifted or once their business qualifies to open back up in some capacity."

There's a similar program in Battle Creek set up by the United Way and Battle Creek Unlimited.

Sargent says the programs will help struggling workers and families as well as entrepreneurs.

"Many of them are employed by small businesses and businesses of this size. We know that it's really important to not only support the businesses but also to think about the workers who work for these businesses."

Sargent also says the $5,000 grants are especially intended for minority-owned firms.

"Black, indigenous, and people-of-color-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, are a priority focus for us as is, with our connection with Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo, neighborhood-based businesses in Edison, Northside, and Eastside are also a priority. So, not exclusive to that but definitely a strong priority for us as we move forward in making these decisions."

The programs in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek were set up with large contributions by the Consumers Energy Foundation. The City of Kalamazoo also plans to chip in $300,000 towards the $500,000 available to help 100 small enterprises. The micro-grants are in addition to a business loan program launched by the city and the United Way in April. That drew criticism from some minority-owned businesses that said they couldn't take on more debt during the crisis. Sargent says the new program will help address that issue.

Sargent says, overall, the initiative is needed to keep small firms going until the pandemic has passed.

"We really want to make sure that we're getting dollars out to the businesses that need it most, so they can get through this challenging time and be the businesses that they have been in this community for so long and really exist post-pandemic."

The application deadline is May 27. The businesses that will receive the grants will be announced on June 1.