After spending a few years in human resources at various companies, including the WWE, Chaquanzha Stephenson decided to shift gears.
She started her own trucking company – Point Transportation & Logistics in Milford – in 2021.
After purchasing a truck that ended up needing $30,000 in repairs and thereby cutting into her cash flow, Stephenson started looking into various funding options.
Stephenson said the funding she received from the state’s Small Business Boost Fund helped her business get back on track.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Stephenson said, adding she has recommended the program to friends.
Sheila Hummel, the business development program manager in the Office of Small Business and Community Development, said the boost fund program – which matches lenders to businesses – has provided funding to 190 businesses – equating to $24 million – since it launched in 2022.
Hummel credited David Lehman, the state’s former Economic and Community Development Commissioner, with having the foresight to see that there was a need for this specific type of program.
“He knew small businesses really needed help,” Hummel said.
Businesses or nonprofits can apply for these low-interest loans if they have no more than 100 full-time employees, annual revenue of less than $8 million, and have been in operation for at least a year before the date of application.
Hummel said that the loans can be between $5,000 and $500,000 and are set at a 4.5% fixed rate, and that business owners have 60 to 72 months to pay them back.
Program coordinators are also targeting businesses in low-income areas and those run by women and people of color, as they have been historically denied access to working capital.
Hummel said those businesses that are awarded loans can apply the funds to various expenses, such as equipment, utilities, rent, marketing, and renovations.
However, in addition to low-interest loans, business owners will have access to technical support such as doing a deep dive into the business.
“We are really trying to capture the people who don’t get matched up, helping people improve their credit,” Hummel said. “This program is very attractive because of the components of everything all in one place. It’s not only money people need. They need help.”
Applicants can receive free business guidance before, during, and after the application process, as well as help with financial projections, cash-flow management, business plans, and credit improvement support.
“Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get matched up,” Hummel said. “Get the technical assistance.”
Among some of the success stories, the Stamford Family YMCA was able to use the funding to keep their after-school care and day camp for kids going.
VASE Management, a construction management and real estate development company in New Haven, used the funds to bid and secure larger projects, thereby increasing the company’s ability to compete.
“We understand you can’t help everybody but we are trying to help as many people as we can,” Hummel said. “If your credit is bad, there are people who will work with you. If you are really serious about your business, you can get the help you need.”