NEI launches COVID-19 resource to help entrepreneurs affected by pandemic

What do entrepreneurs need right now to survive the negative impact of COVID-19? Liquidity, awareness, technical assistance, and inspiration, says Pamela Lewis, director of the New Economy Initiative.

The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting small businesses especially hard. According to research by the National Federation of Independent Business, 92% of small business owners have been negatively impacted by the novel coronavirus outbreak, soaring from 76% of employers reporting negative impacts just 10 days prior.

To help connect entrepreneurs looking for assistance, NEI — a philanthropy-led entrepreneurial development strategy that aims to build an inclusive network of support for entrepreneurs and small businesses in southeast Michigan — has launched a COVID-19 landing page within its Startup Space platform. In fall 2019, NEI partnered with the national community-building platform Startup Space to better connect entrepreneurs to local business resources in Metro Detroit.

The online tool categorizes “some of the resources, or points of assistance that can help entrepreneurs and small business owners,” Lewis says. “We also are trying to ensure that it's a place where the community of entrepreneur-support providers can find each other and resources, and connect.”

In terms of liquidity, Lewis points to grants like the funds being provided by the Detroit Economic Development Corporation and TechTown’s Small Business Stabilization Fund.

“Those are things that help small businesses find some type of liquidity in this moment,” Lewis says.

Entrepreneurs also need awareness, and the know-how to navigate the current “overload on information,” Lewis says, so businesses can be in a position to go to a bank and pursue federal and philanthropic dollars through NEI and other organizations.

Once they get the capital, entrepreneurs will need technical assistance, “to ensure that they're utilizing those dollars and positioning that business for success,” she says.

To promote the platform, the Startup Space team has been working with the In Good Co. team — and that’s where the inspiration part comes in.

In recent days, storyteller Shannon Cason has been highlighting stories of entrepreneurs sharing how they’ve been impacted by COVID-19 and as unlikely it may sound, the opportunities.

For example, Clement “Fame” Brown, owner of Three Thirteen on the Avenue of Fashion, says in an interview posted on Facebook that many of the businesses on Livernois endured a year of the streetscape construction only to be hit by the pandemic, which has been “devastating,” he says.

In terms of his business, he has shifted to online sales, which was the “direction we were already moving in, this just forced us to move faster.”

In another interview, Cherri Harris of Swint Logistics Group, thinks businesses will emerge stronger.

“We’re going to make it through this and I believe we’re going to come out stronger than ever before because in my lifetime I’ve never seen America actually really help small businesses,” she says.

And support at the level will be key if there is a way through the uncertainty that small businesses face. Lewis says state and federal government are starting to “recognize and understand the value and importance of small businesses” and hopefully what emerges from all of this are “better policies around how [small businesses] get supported and grow within their communities.”

It will take “the deep pockets of the government in order to see people through. This is why people getting ready and understanding the SBA, the CARES act process, whether they're going to go for the Paycheck Protection Plan loan or economic disaster loan ... the more we can help people understand that track, the easier we can ensure that more businesses will get help, because there's just not enough money coming from the state or even from philanthropy, that could fill the scale of the need.”

Lewis says more support for small businesses is “a message that a lot of us have been saying for a while, that the small businesses are the most critical to our cities, particularly lower-income cities, whether it's Detroit, whether it's Ypsilanti, whether it's Pontiac. There needs to be more attention to what they need for them to survive and thrive.”

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Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes about food at the intersection of culture and business. She has contributed to NPR, Midwest Living magazine, Eater, and a variety of other publications. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @dorothy_lynn_h.