Inside the St. Petersburg College’s Allstate Center, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch congratulated business owners for participating in the city’s first South St. Pete Microfund program aimed to help entrepreneurs continue their venture.
“I want to thank the City of St. Pete and The Greenhouse,” Danita Harrison, a professional photographer, said after receiving her certificate of completion Sept. 25. “I applied for so many grants and couldn’t get there.”
Other recipients echoed similar comments during the “graduation ceremony.”
Welch, the city’s economic development team and St. Petersburg Greenhouse executives announced the rollout of the South St. Petersburg CRA (Community Redevelopment Area) Microfund program earlier this year, touting it as a new accessible funding pot for business owners who utilize the funds towards making targeted improvements without providing any upfront capital.
Volunteers from SCORE Mentors Pinellas County provided mentorship, offering guidance in financial planning to the 50-plus business owners.
“I was planning to close my business, and now I’m going to continue,” Terrencia Smith, owner of hair salon Chaunte Olayy, said on stage thanking the mentors.
According to CNBC reports, 25% of small businesses fail by the first year and 50% by the fifth year. Minority-owned business owners face even greater odds. Eight out of 10 Black-owned businesses fail within the first 18 months, largely due to financial hardships and lack of support.
When the program launched in May, city officials expected to award $350,000; however, the city provided $430,000 this year through the different buckets of accessible funding:
- Existing brick and mortar: $10,000
- Existing family childcare: $10,000
- Existing home-based business: $5,000
- Existing shared commercial space: $5,000
- Early-stage startup: $2,500
In total, over $1.35 million will be disbursed throughout multiple cohorts.
Jakub Kozuba with the family-run Kozuba and Sons Distillery Inc. withdrew from this cohort process, as his business will be moving outside the CRA boundaries and would no longer qualify.
The applying business must be located in the South St. Petersburg CRA, which is bounded by 2nd Avenue North, Interstate 275, I-175 and Booker Creek to the north; 4th Street South to the east; 30th Avenue South to the south; and 49th Street to the west.
City officials previously launched a commercial matching grant program for existing businesses in 2016, but it had shortcomings and rejected many businesses vital to the CRA due a lack of capital access.
City leaders and executives said they will change the approach for the next South St. Pete CRA Microfund cohort.
Instead of accepting applications on a first-come basis, they will be accepting all eligible participants; however, with limited mentors and resources, the number of participants may be restricted in future cohorts.
All businesses, with the exception of early-stage startups, must have existing operations for the past six months or longer. Early-stage startup founders must provide documents demonstrating the business is past the ideation stage, according to the program’s eligibility requirements.