Small business grant program reopens in Kalamazoo

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Carmen James, owner of Fit Bella Vei, is a previous recipient of the Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grant. Courtesy United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

A grant program in its third year of bringing relief to Kalamazoo microbusinesses will offer two additional rounds in 2022.

The city of Kalamazoo, United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region and the Foundation For Excellence said Thursday, March 31, the Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grants (KMEG) program, which provides grants of $5,000 to eligible microbusinesses within the city limits, will return for two rounds this year.

KMEG funding will provide a total of 60 microenterprise businesses with support in the first round of 2022. The city and United Way began collaborating on KMEG funding in 2020, and they continue to partner on the Kalamazoo Small Business Loan Fund.

“We’re excited to continue investing in and empowering people to succeed in Kalamazoo,” said Antonio Mitchell, community investment manager for the city of Kalamazoo. “We continue to be grateful for this partnership with the United Way that helps make it possible.”

The application period for this year’s first round of KMEG grants opens online at 8 a.m. Monday, April 11, and closes 5 p.m. Friday, May 13.

The second round will open in the fall, with dates to be determined.

The KMEG program aims to support community members living below the ALICE (asset limited, income constrained and employed) threshold, with a strong focus on providing support to Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC)- and women-owned microenterprises.

Also known as microbusinesses, microenterprises are very small businesses with typically 10 or fewer employees. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, microenterprises make up about 75% of private sector employers. Many microenterprises are BIPOC- and/or women- owned. They are vital to income and wealth generation in underserved communities and historically have not had access to traditional grant and lending sources in comparison with other businesses.

To remedy these disparities, BIPOC- and women-owned businesses and businesses within the Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo neighborhoods of Eastside, Edison and Northside are encouraged to apply.

United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region said it is open to all people, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or physical, mental or developmental abilities.

United Way will administer the grants. Only businesses that did not receive KMEG funds in 2021 are eligible. In addition, eligible businesses must:

  • Be a for-profit company located in Kalamazoo.
  • Have 10 employees or fewer.
  • Generate annual revenue of $1 million or less.
  • Have operated for one year or longer.
  • Need working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses or other similar expenses that occur in the course of business.

KMEG funds can be used for operational costs such as rent, mortgage, utilities and other business expenses; payroll; and benefit costs for employees. Recipients must use their grant funds within six months and report back to United Way on how the funds were used.

A review committee of diverse representatives from business, financial and community groups from across Kalamazoo will review applications and make decisions on funding by June 6.

United Way is offering application assistance by appointment on Tuesday afternoons beginning April 12. To sign up for a one-hour session, people can visit changethestory.org/micro-enterprise-grants.

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