The Initiative Foundation is linking up to 765 small businesses in Central Minnesota with their Small Business Relief grants in the coming weeks.
The Initiative Foundation will dole out up to $7.8 million in six weeks, Initiative Foundation Vice President for Entrepreneurship Jeff Wig said in a foundation news release.
The Initiative Foundation typically gives out $2 million in grants in a year.
“We believe it’s the biggest grant-making undertaking that our foundation has ever engaged in,” Initiative Foundation President Matt Varilek said Monday.
The state approved the Minnesota Small Business Relief Grants Program in June, which has been supervised by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Most of the funding for these $10,000 grants, intended to help businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, comes from the CARES Act.
Half the grant money is to be distributed in outstate Minnesota by the six initiative foundations, the release said.
Exactly how much money to exactly how many businesses is still a rough number, as the Initiative Foundation is validating the eligibility of grant recipients chosen through a lottery process that prioritized veteran-owned, woman-owned, minority-owned and microbusinesses (businesses with fewer than 6 full-time employees). Priority was also given to businesses adversely affected by executive orders “such as that the business could not operate at more than 50 percent of normal capacity,” the DEED website said.
According to DEED, $60.3 million was available for grant rewards through the lottery process. There were 5,780 applicants selected across the state.
The initial list of grant recipients had 301 small businesses based in Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties, Varilek said.
Varilek said Monday the Initiative Foundation hopes to cut its first check later this week.
“It’s a major effort for us, but as much as that is true, we would also focus attention to the fact that this is to help businesses that are engaged in extraordinary efforts to keep themselves afloat,” Varilek said.
Cultural Mall grants help local retailers
The Cultural Mall Operator Grants Program is part of the Minnesota Small Business Relief Grants Program and set aside $2.5 million for “Minnesota-based operators … of privately owned, permanent indoor retail space and food markets that have an ethnic cultural emphasis,” according to DEED. The facilities must lease space to at least 25 tenants, have 50% or more tenants with fewer than 20 employees and have at least 50% of tenants whose businesses are majority-owned by individuals who identify in specific racial or ethnic minority categories.
At least half of the grant funds, which could have reached $250,000, have to go toward rent forgiveness of existing tenants.
Global Center LLC in St. Cloud is the only cultural mall outside the Twin Cities metro area to be preliminarily shosen as a recipient a Minnesota Cultural Mall Operator Grant. The 12 grant recipients will undergo a validation process prior to receiving funding.
The building has more than 30 tenants, owner Nasir Khan said.
“They did get affected by the coronavirus, so we want to give them maximum relief allowed by the state,” he said.
Khan said his plans are not entirely solidified, as he is still waiting for his grant to be validated and the funding to come through. However, he said he prioritizes rent relief for his tenants.
COVID-19 relief fund helps regional non-profits
The Initiative Foundation was also involved in helping deliver funds for the state’s Small Business Emergency Loan Program and put up its own funding to provide peacetime emergency child care grants.
Furthermore, the Initiative Foundation also shifted the focus of its own grant-making, Varilek said.
“We basically threw our normal grant guidelines out the window and shifted all of our grant-making to COVID response,” he said.
The Initiative Foundatoin established a COVID-19 relief fund to help regional non-profits and also told grant recipients that, when the pandemic hit, they were essentially released from previous requirements and instead use the money to keep the lights on.
The next grant rounds will also provide funds for short-term COVID-19 response.
The Initiative Foundation was founded in the late 1980s in the midst of the farm crisis. Its mission is to enhance the vitality of greater Minnesota, Varilek said, and to help diversify the economy. Though he said he wishes there was no crisis, the Initiative Foundation feels pride in being able to help its neighbors.
The Initiative Foundation serves Benton, Cass, Chisago, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright counties and the Leech Lake and Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwe sovereign tribal nations.
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This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: Initiative Foundation set to connect hundreds of small businesses to millions in aid