$1 Million in Grants Deployed to Help Diverse Puget Sound Small Businesses Stay Open
Erin Williamson

June 10, 2021

Ventures is excited to announce that over $1,000,000 has been deployed to small businesses in grant funds since the start of the pandemic. In 2020, Ventures distributed $918,000 in direct cash assistance to 299 small and micro businesses in our community. With generous support from Wells Fargo and its Open for Business Fund, we closed our third round of grants on May 31, 2021. To date, Ventures has provided $1,010,000 in grants to 474 businesses.

And we don’t plan to stop.

When Governor Jay Inslee issued Washington State’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order in March 2020, a new landscape for small businesses was created overnight.  As businesses closed and social gatherings were limited, entrepreneurs navigated through an emergency that no one could have planned for and that had no clear end in site. 

One entrepreneur described the impact like this, “Every year I take time away from my wage job to vend at famers markets. I make more money from business sales than I do at my job but I only sell during the summer when markets are open. Those sales make all the difference for my family. When the shut down order hit, we didn’t how long it would last. At first the order was for two weeks so we thought we would make money over the summer like usual. Now it’s been a year since we’ve made a sale. The hardest part is not being able to plan.”

Entrepreneurs reached out to Ventures for support. Small business owners knew the clear solution to the pandemic challenges was cash assistance. Cash support meant entrepreneurs could pay bills that flowed in despite the shut down. In response, Ventures created a small business grant program. We launched the program with generous funding from individual donors and community partners. In the first weeks of the pandemic, we deployed rapid response mini-grants to 40 businesses. The impact from COVID19 continued and we doubled down on our grant program.

CeCe Smith, owner of Ideas By CeCe, explains how even small dollar grants can help a business in uncertain time.Covid caused my event planning business to pivot from event planning as a focus to customized party favors and decorations as a main source of generating revenue.  I had to turn my focus to my online presence updating my website, social media and marketing. The mini grant allowed me pay for professional services to rebrand my business. Although a mini grant isn’t much money it can help to address a need for a small business whether it’s inventory, equipment, setting up or revamping a website, or marketing and branding.”

We built and refined our grants based on feedback from entrepreneurs we serve coupled with insight from our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Team. We learned that a successful small business grant program combines low barrier funding with high touch support.

Low-barrier funding means:
  • fast funding – applications can be completed in 20 minutes or less and do not require sophisticated financials 
  • flexible funding – entrepreneurs determine how grant funds are spent, based on their business’ specific needs
  • fair funding – our grants do not require an “open by” date so that entrepreneurs who launched a business in response to a pandemic job loss are eligible to apply
High touch support means applicants receive:
  • one-on-one email, phone, or text support from staff to complete the grant application 
  • one-on-one individualized support from staff to complete the grant agreements and receive payments
  • individualized support in English and Spanish with translation to other languages as required

Joanna Mummert, Ventures longtime Business Basics Course (BBC) trainer, leads our one-on-one support for grant applicants. Joanna offers compassionate, individualized assistance to grant applicants as a trusted partner and coach.  Partnerships between Joanna and individual entrepreneurs allow businesses to unlock additional capital. For example, Joanna worked with Celina Aguiniga of Emerald City Mattress on her Ventures mini-grant. Through this process Joanna learned how COVID19 impacted Emerald City Mattress. Then, Joanna was able to connect Celina with the resources she needed to guide her business through the pandemic.

As Washington emerges from the COVID19 pandemic it is time to invest in the long term success of small and micro-businesses. Our third round of business grants provide entrepreneurs with unrestricted capital to relaunch, reopen, and recover. Hannah Laurin, owner of Forget Me Not Ice Cream Sandwiches describes her journey back to business, “I make and sell handcrafted ice cream sandwiches using local, seasonal produce at the Crossroads and Mercer Island Farmers Markets. I made the choice to stay closed last year because of my high risk of COVID-19 complications. The Ventures Mini Grant helped me buy supplies that I needed to safely get back into business this summer. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be back out in the markets, living my dream!”

Ventures thanks Wells Fargo for their support of our mini-grant program that helps entrepreneurs like Hannah return to business and live their dream. Learn more about Wells Fargo’s investment in Ventures here. To join Wells Fargo and invest in the success of small and micro business in our community, connect with Beto Yarce at [email protected].