Small businesses, particularly those in communities historically excluded and especially those owned by Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and women, have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. In the first half of 2020, the percentage of active African American business owners declined by 41%, in addition to businesses owned by immigrants (36%), Latinx people (32%) and Asian people (26%). Before the pandemic, of the 31.7 million small businesses in the United States, only 19.9% were women-owned and 18.3% BIPOC-owned. The pandemic has widened gaps in economic growth ─ gaps developed over years of discriminatory policies toward women and communities of color in the United States. Now more than ever, nonprofits play a crucial role in providing the services that small businesses need to access equitable resources and support.
Nonprofits assist entrepreneurs, especially in underinvested communities, to break through systemic barriers, such as predatory lending, restrictive banking, and redlining, to achieve sustainability and longevity. Over 80% of small businesses are non-employee firms, and many entrepreneurs lack expertise in professional functional skills such as marketing, financing, business plan writing, and capital raising, including access to traditionally available programming. For business owners most affected by systemic barriers, nonprofits are essential in gaining access to capital, financial services, and mentorship, especially during periods of uncertainty such as lockdowns and labor and supply shortages. Through innovative and forward-thinking solutions that fill gaps in the current small business ecosystem, nonprofits have the power to influence the systems that will shape the future of entrepreneurship in the United States.
The Truist Foundation and MIT Solve are thrilled to be partners in launching the inaugural Inspire Awards to identify innovative nonprofit-driven solutions that provide support to grow, develop, and sustain racially diverse and/or women-led small businesses in the United States. The Challenge is seeking organizations driving a new frontier for entrepreneurship across the United States. We welcome bold solutions with transformational potential that span across a range of challenges faced by small business owners, including:
- Connecting small business owners and key stakeholders such as investors, local policymakers, and mentors with the relevant experience to improve coordination, collaboration, and knowledge bases within the small business ecosystem
- Advocating for and shaping policy that supports small business owners and/or place-based efforts in their geographic areas, including increased access to resources, removal of structural barriers, and access to infrastructure (i.e. broadband)
- Offering focused guidance/professional development for building specific functional skills for internal staff such as strategic planning, human resources, process improvement, and research and testing products/services
- Assisting with access to capital, capital campaigns, and/or financial education and information
- Supporting and fostering growth to scale through comprehensive and relevant technical support assistance such as legal aid, fiscal management for sustainability, marketing, and procurement.
*All submitted solutions will appear publicly on our open innovation platform. Applications will be formally reviewed by the MIT Solve team and judges after the EXTENDED deadline on May 16th, 2022.