The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock received a $2.5 million grant this week to engage in targeted outreach to small businesses in underserved communities.
The U.S. Small Business Administration awarded the competitive funding under the Community Navigator Pilot Program administered by the its Office of Entrepreneurship Education. Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman announced recipients on Thursday, Oct. 28.
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“The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center is pleased to be one of the programs selected to participate in SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program,” said Michael Singleton, associate state director of the center and principal investigator for the project. “We know that not all groups and individuals have had the resources and capital needed to start or grow their businesses. We are excited about the opportunity to utilize this program to ensure all Arkansas entrepreneurs and small business owners have the tools and resources to succeed.”
The Community Navigator Pilot Program, part of the American Rescue Plan initiative, is designed to reduce barriers that all small businesses, including those from underrepresented and underserved groups, often face in accessing critical support.
Under the community navigator approach, trusted community partners act as “spokes.” Each spoke will reach into specific sectors of the state’s entrepreneurial community. As the “hub,” the center will provide centralized support and structure for the spokes.
Arkansas Community Navigator spokes include:
Arkansas Human Development Corporation
Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce
Central Arkansas Library System
East Arkansas Enterprise Community
Phoenix Youth and Family Services
University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service
The center will also develop and share tools for the spokes and provide market research and specialized expertise for businesses.
“These organizations will meet nascent and existing entrepreneurs at any level, provide a clear path toward achieving their small business goals, and equip them with knowledge, tools, and access,” said Singleton, a resident of Maumelle. “We want all Arkansas small businesses to have access to relevant, comprehensive, wrap-around services needed for persisting through the COVID-19 pandemic and aftermath.”
Earlier SBA pandemic relief programs for small businesses included the Paycheck Protection Program and COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Arkansas has nearly 250,000 small businesses, and less than a quarter of them received PPP funding in 2020. An analysis of the PPP and EIDL funds distributed in 2020 found that not all communities benefited equally from the programs.
This disparity was underscored by the recent studies conducted by the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.