By Nancy Swift and Sharon Miller
As the COVID-19 outbreak spread across the Bay Area, Jennnie Lennick, owner of the small-batch clothing and craft shop Jenny Lemons, knew her business was in trouble. Bay Area residents were staying home and her sales were drying up. Thankfully, she knew who to call for help: the San Francisco-based Renaissance Women’s Business Center.
The center immediately found Jennie a resilience coach who discussed moving her retail and craft workshops online, something Jennie had long wanted to do but never had the time for. They also helped her apply for one of San Francisco’s COVID-19 grants. Now, her business is surviving–thriving is the usual verb you hear in these stories, but times and expectations have changed dramatically in just a few weeks. She’s been vocal on social media and has seen a strong response from the community. She’s also seen a demand for art kits that she is rapidly trying to restock from small makers around the country. She’s even able to offer free online classes helping customers make fabric protective masks and has donated supplies to more than 400 people around the country to make their own.
Jennie’s story of resilience during this crisis–the likes of which we have not seen for a century–is just one of the many recent victories for small businesses created by Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) around the state. WBCs tap into California’s network of women-owned small businesses and are uniquely qualified to help women entrepreneurs during this crisis – which is why we’re asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to dedicate $2.75 million to California’s WBCs in the California emergency relief package. This additional funding will help women business owners survive the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, so they can continue innovating, creating jobs and supporting local communities for years to come.
WBCs provide training, mentoring, business development and financing opportunities to women entrepreneurs. Last year in California alone, these centers–including the Renaissance Women’s Business Center that helped Jennie–served 7,300 clients who created 5,000 businesses, which in turn created 6,000 jobs and generated $350 million in sales. Fifty million dollars in loan capital was leveraged by these micro businesses with the help of Women’s Business Centers.
Many of the small businesses served by WBCs are among our most vulnerable, primarily from low-and moderate-income communities and without access to a safety net or traditional financing. But what they lack in capital, they make up in grit. These businesses keep our communities strong. But they will be among the hardest hit by the economic fallout from COVID-19.
Many are re-imagining how to serve their customers. Some have ratcheted up their online presence and are making home deliveries, but almost all are wondering how to pay their employees, pay their bills and survive. As these resilient entrepreneurs innovate and adjust to meet the new reality of COVID-19, WBCs are standing at the ready.
With an additional boost in funding, WBCs would be able to:
● Provide individual consulting online and by phone
● Provide marketing assistance as businesses re-tool their customer service strategies
● Assist with loan packaging for the new “Paycheck Protection Program” loans and SBA disaster loans
● Enable affected businesses to qualify for San Francisco’s emergency grants
● Provide info on local, state and federal resources
● Check in with clients to reduce their isolation and build community
Gov. Newsom has recognized the role of small businesses in supporting healthy economies and is one of the only governors in the U.S. to fund WBCs with state funds.
But unless we take quick action, the rapid closure of women-owned small businesses across California will have a devastating impact on our economy. These 1.9 million firms–38% of small businesses in the state–are critical to supporting low-income households and strengthening local economies. WBCs are embedded in these networks and ready to serve as trusted resources for California’s most vulnerable small businesses. But without additional funding, WBCs won’t be able to meet demand.
Gov. Newsom and California legislators must affirm their value and include additional funding for Women’s Business Centers in California’s emergency economic stimulus bill.
Nancy Swift is the Chair of the California Women’s Business Centers Network; Sharon Miller is the CEO of San Francisco-based Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center