In the best of times, minority- and women-owned small businesses can struggle to stay afloat. During the pandemic, these firms faced some of the biggest challenges. “Most small businesses do not have the cash flow, reserves or insurance coverage to withstand a short-term interruption in sales, much less the indefinite impact of a global health crisis,” says Kate MacNaughton, director of development at Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV), which has provided guidance and support during this unprecedented time.
Three decades ago, WEV was founded on a commitment to support the economic success of women- and minority-owned businesses along California’s central coast. They continue this commitment by providing a robust continuum of services, from short-term specialty training and counseling programs to comprehensive business planning and long-term advising, all of which are complemented by a loan program that’s targeted to entrepreneurs who don’t have access to traditional financing.
Today WEV is helping entrepreneurs in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties tackle the social and economic challenges they face by providing the tools and resources needed to create and sustain viable businesses and recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic. Expanded short-term advisory services address urgent issues like disaster recovery and cash flow management. Since funding continues to remain elusive for many small businesses, WEV offers grants and low-interest loans to finance a variety of business strategies, including marketing, website upgrades and hiring, while a new Forgivable Loan Program assists owners who need capital but are hesitant to take on more debt.
A resource for women and minorities looking to start, grow or improve a small business since 1991, WEV has provided training and advisory services to more than 19,000 people and provided more than $7 million in small business loans. “Pre-pandemic, WEV served an average of 300 clients each year; in 2020, more than 1,000 entrepreneurs sought help,” says MacNaughton. “We have seen a dramatic increase in demand in the wake of the crisis.”
As part of its $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity, Bank of America is supporting an expansion of WEV’s programs, including training and coaching to improve entrepreneurs’ financial skills, knowledge and confidence, and low-interest capital and grants to finance re-openings. “Long-term, stable funders like Bank of America are critical to WEV, now more than ever,” says MacNaughton.