Fran Pastore, chief executive officer of the Women’s Business Development Council, remembers depositing a $60 check for the organization’s first-ever banking account when it was just starting out 25 years ago at the JP Morgan Chase branch in Stamford.
Now, the nonprofit, dedicated to helping women build their Connecticut businesses, just received a $300,000 investment from JPMorgan Chase to support its Equity Match Grant (EMG) Program, which has awarded nearly $925,000 to small businesses throughout the state since December 2020.
The program – which is meant to help women-owned businesses and businesses owned by women of color – can help those ventures that have specific programs in mind that will help them grow, either into a new market or to develop a new product or service.
“It’s just remarkable,” Pastore said during a virtual press conference Tuesday announcing JP Morgan Chase’s gift. “Here we are full circle.”
This latest round of grants will be the program’s fourth. In December 2021, 42 businesses received grants.
Brenda Thickett, vice president of programs and business services at WBDC, said that the organization has funded businesses in 52 of the state’s 169 towns, and that various industries have been represented including home businesses as well as those in a street location. They have ranged from caterers and food trucks to wellness businesses and photographers.
“We have a broad footprint across the state and we are looking to expand that as we continue,” Thickett said.
Businesses have to give specifics regarding how the funding can help the business grow with the investment, including cost estimates for equipment and training, Thickett said. “It has to be well-thought-out and defined,” she added.
Available grant awards range between $2,500 and $10,000. Applications will be accepted through February 13.
The grant program originated from contributions by a number of private and public funders, including the state Department of Economic and Community Development, according to Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz.
“It is a public/private partnership,” Bysiewicz said, adding that she and the WBDC want to encourage women who own small businesses to take advantage of the equity grant program.
“These are grants, not loans. We decided on the grant model because we heard from our constituents all across Connecticut that they didn’t want to be burdened with additional loans or debt,” Bysiewicz said.
The program is also a way to address inequities in grant awards which, by percentage, seemed to be going to white male-owned businesses, she said.
“It was time to create a program that focused exclusively on women-owned businesses and women of color-owned businesses. We’ve been really, really proud of our efforts to promote equity and opportunity through these equity match grants,” Bysiewicz said. “Thirty-three percent of them have gone to women of color-owned businesses.”
The grants have also had a direct impact on job creation. Pastore said the first two rounds of grants led 23 companies to add 76 new jobs, while 71% of those businesses increased their revenue since receiving the grant.
Bysiewicz said the program helps those who receive grant funding with creating a business plan, a marketing plan, expanding product lines, or addressing COVID-related challenges.
“We know that opening a small business is really hard work. There are always unforeseen costs, and with the pandemic and supply-chain issues, there are all kinds of challenges and pressures on women-owned small businesses,” Bysiewicz said.
The press conference featured two women whose businesses received financial support from the grant program – Jona Jeffcoat, founder and director of services for Infinity Music Therapy Services in Southington, and Kevnesha Boyd, founder and clinical director of Quality Counseling in Hamden.
Jeffcoat said she will use the funding to open a mobile music therapy clinic, the first of its kind in the state and only the second in the nation. This will help more people access the company’s services, Jeffcoat said.
Jeffcoat said she knows firsthand how accessibility to these services can make a big impact on helping people, as she was able to help her son with language issues with musical therapy.
“Not everyone has had that based on their location in the state, especially with COVID-19,” Jeffcoat said.
Quality Counseling’s mission is to resolve and reduce the negative impact of racial discrimination and trauma within the Black community, Boyd explained. Before she received funding, she said her wait list was very long owing to a lack of mental health providers who are culturally sensitive and affordable.
“It really saddens me that I can’t provide a therapist to everybody who wants one,” Boyd said.
With the grant funding, Boyd was able to provide specific training to her staff, and she has been able to hire more therapists.
“WBDC has been a blessing. I don’t know if I would have had the ability in terms of education or funding to scale my business to the next level,” Boyd said. “And here I am.”