What does the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program mean for small businesses?
As part of the American Rescue Plan, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is now accepting applications for the Community Navigator Pilot Program. This program will provide grants to organizations that support small businesses, and prioritizes very small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
The grants will be awarded to SBA resource partners, state and local governments, tribes and other non-profit organizations, who will use the funds for programs that help small business owners start and grow their businesses.
Some of the organizations that are eligible to receive grants include SBA Resource Partners, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Women’s Business Centers, SCORE, Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs), nonprofit colleges and universities, and community development financial institutions.
Applications will be accepted through July 12, 2021 and the SBA expects to make award decisions by August 2021.
What the CNPP means for small businesses
Unlike some of the other programs in the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan, the Community Navigator Pilot Program does not provide funding directly to small businesses. Rather, it provides grants to organizations that support small businesses, particularly the smallest businesses owned by those who are socially and economically disadvantaged.
So what does this mean for you as a small business owner?
It means more funding will be available for organizations like these:
- America’s SBDC, a network of nearly 1,000 local Small Business Development Centers which business consulting at no cost and training at low cost to new and existing businesses. If you are planning to start a business or you are already running one, you can go to your local SBDC for face-to-face consulting with a business expert, or training on a variety of topics. Most SBDCs are located at colleges and universities and you can find the one nearest to you here.
- SCORE provides mentoring and education to small businesses. Free mentoring is available at SCORE’s 250 local chapters or remotely, from mentors who are all experts in entrepreneurship and related fields. Small business owners can also take advantage of webinars, on-demand courses, and a library of online resources, as well as in-person workshops that are free or low-cost.
- Women’s Business Centers, a national network of over 100 centers providing training, mentoring, financing opportunities, and business development to women entrepreneurs.
- Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) provides counseling, training and resources to veterans and transitioning service members, including National Guard & Reserve members, and military spouses. VBOC assists with preparing business plans and conducting feasibility analysis, and provides training, counseling and mentorship.
- Community development financial institutions, which offer business lending and development in underserved communities. You can find a CDFI near you using Opportunity Finance Network’s CDFI locator.
Note that grant awards have not yet been made, and the organizations listed above may or may not apply for or receive funds. The grants are intended to be used for programs that assist socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs with starting and running very small businesses.
What can business do now?
While you can’t access these funds directly, you may be able to take advantage of the programs that will be funded by CNPP grants. Here are some steps you can take now so you’ll be ready to access these programs when they are available.
- Identify the eligible organizations in your area that apply to you. You may already be using their services, but even if you’re not, it’s not too early – or too late – to start. In any event, make sure you’re on their email list so you get notifications of new programs that might be helpful.
- Think about what kinds of help you need. If yours is a brand new business – or not quite a business yet – you might need help formulating a business plan, pricing your products or services, or finding a business location. You may need financing to start or expand your business. Or perhaps you want a mentor, who can help your now and as your business grows.
- Get your financial house in order. If you plan to seek financing, whether it’s a loan or an investment, make sure your financial information is as good as it can be. Take a look at your personal credit rating, and take any steps you can to improve it now. Gather your financial records or projections and make sure they are complete. That way, you’ll be ready when the time is right to apply for a loan or venture capital.
The Community Navigator Pilot Program is aimed at supporting new and existing small businesses in underserved communities. If this describes your business, stay informed about how to take advantage of these programs.