Coming Together: Our Coronavirus Response
Beto Yarce

March 31, 2020

Ventures’ clients have been severely impacted by social distance mandates caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Our business owners have seen major drops in revenue – as much as 100% for some – because their sales relied on in-person events (i.e. farmer’s markets) or foot traffic-related sales.

Some of our clients have lost their jobs while also experiencing reduced business sales, putting them in severe financial crisis. Ventures is working to nimbly understand and address emerging needs through our relationships with clients. We are adapting our programmatic offerings to meet these needs; one way is through our business grant program.

Within one week, we fundraised and deployed forty $500 grants to individuals based on their business size and need. We received 175 applications.

One week later, we raised a total of $60,000 to deploy mini grants to 120 people. Business grants are an innovation that Ventures has long disputed implementing because of the administrative burden to assure equitable deployment of funds. The grant questions for this pilot program were very simple with limited word allowances because the intent is rapid deployment. However, we did develop a system that included anonymous review and weighted point system based on screening criteria specific to this opportunity: urgency, need and business size.

We are so grateful to the supporters of our emergency fund: Evergreen Business Capital, the Seattle Foundation, the Northwest Area Foundation, Seattle Pride, Adobe, and several individual donors including Ventures board member Dianna Winegarden! While the circumstances of piloting this business grant program are less than ideal, we hope to learn from this process and potentially launch a sustained business grant program in the future.

Though these circumstances were unexpected, Ventures is pivoting our programs in response to community needs, and we have no doubt that these programs will have a lasting impact for our organization and our clients. Here are just a few of the testimonials we have heard from recipients so far.

“I was so scared before I got this grant but now I have some hope.”

“I couldn’t have opened my store without Ventures. Ventures is helping again now that my shop is forced to close. I am so grateful for you guys!”

“This [grant] is great news; we are really struggling right now. The farmer’s markets have closed and the restaurant where I work laid off most of the staff.”

Coaching: Before COVID, our approach to coaching was to be available to clients who sought our support. This coaching was free and unlimited for clients, for life. And while this remains true, our top priority at the moment is to take a proactive approach to coaching, meaning that we regularly check in with clients even if we have not heard from them. We have transitioned all coaching services to be digital, either through Zoom, Skype or over the phone. Coaches are working with clients to adapt to the social distancing mandates. For many clients, this means shifting their business online, learning online marketing tactics, or opening carry out or delivery options.

Training: Historically, Ventures has been committed to only offering in-person training because the impact of community connection, especially with entrepreneurs. Currently, we are working to shift training, including our Business Basics Course and select advanced training opportunities, to an online format.

The training will be delivered over Zoom by contracted instructors in English and in Spanish. E-learning opens new connection opportunities for Ventures to facilitate, including developing a volunteer opportunity and community spaces through Facebook groups or chatrooms. We will deliver 1.5 hours of lecture, and then clients will have the opportunity to work in small groups for 1.5 hours with volunteers and peers. Ventures is considering other opportunities that e-learning opens for entrepreneurs, including being connected to those who are farther away from Seattle, or being used as a service adaptable for those who need pre-recorded lessons.

Incubation: With crowds disappearing even before there were any state mandates, Ventures made the decision to close our retail store at Pike Place Market, thus removing the in-person opportunity for clients to sell their products. We currently have an average of 2,300 items in our inventory and in just two days, we were able to get upload 236 items and launch a new online retail store.

Our staff took and edited photos, developed online descriptions and set up the site with limited access to the retail store. Even if it is not perfect, our primary goal is to keep generating revenue for our client’s businesses. Additionally, an online retail store will revolutionize the way Ventures is able to support clients. Normally, our store attracts tourists from across the world on a daily basis, and, now, Ventures will be able to continue engaging our customers through an online store. In turn, continued customer engagement will increase the income that clients receive from sales.

As I have said, this is not how we expected to be celebrating our 25th anniversary – but here we are. Despite these challenges, we are more committed than ever to helping our entrepreneurs however we can.