Beyond Open, a $20 million grant program for minority-owned small businesses, opened its first round of applications on Thursday — the first of three rounds will span over the next two years.
Led by Foundation for the Carolinas, the program is funded by Wells Fargo’s $420 million Open for Business program.
Beyond Open is intended to increase access to capital so that “historically disadvantaged” business owners can grow their operations and drive economic mobility in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
To qualify for a grant, which doesn’t have to be repaid, a company must have at least one employee, but no more than 499. They also must be either:
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Grant packages range from $5,000 to $250,000 and will prioritize qualifying businesses located in Charlotte’s six Corridors of Opportunity.
The pandemic devastated many small businesses, with sales dropping 20% in early 2020. Since then, the City of Charlotte has invested millions of dollars to help small businesses get back on their feet.
Initiatives like the Open for Business program were designed to help small business owners stay afloat during the pandemic.
Another program, the Center City Small Business Innovation Fund, which launched in 2020, gave more than $4.6 million in grants to small businesses, two of which are in the Historic West End.
Earlier this year, Charlotte City Council approved $14 million for small business investment and workforce development. Other local efforts to bring relief to small businesses include a portion of the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, which is a $250 million effort.
The Beyond Open program will offer grants in three tier sizes:
Businesses may use the funding for computers, website design, office furniture or for larger investments, such as leasing or purchasing retail space and major renovations to current spaces.
Brian Collier, executive vice president at Foundation for the Carolinas, said the Beyond Open application is easier than most grants because it asks fewer questions and requires fewer documents.
The “Build for Success” grant requires only two reference letters, which can come from customers, community members and even suppliers. The “Growing for Prosperity” and “Making Bold Moves” grants require tax forms, balance sheets, bank statements and more.
Collier described the application process as “very streamlined.”
Kaela Moore, owner of the online bridal store Treasured Brides, is a first-time grant applicant. Moore said the grant process has been simple and “very clear.”
So far, Collier said funding requests have ranged from parking lot repairs to high-end espresso machines for cafes.
Ashley Creft, operations director of CLT Black Owned, says they’ve notified more than 200 businesses since the application period opened.
CLT Black Owned is a “social good” company that supports the inclusion and stabilization of local Black-owned businesses.
Creft and Moore said Beyond Open’s focus on aiding minority-owned businesses is significant.
Creft cited complexity, business longevity requirements and sometimes confusing wording as elements of other grant programs that have made it difficult for minority-owned businesses to get funding.
The lack of access to capital is a key barrier to growth for many minority-owned businesses, said Rocio Gonzalez, executive director of the Women’s Business Center of Charlotte.
The first application period for Beyond Open is scheduled to end Oct. 28.