Urban Innovation21 aids Homewood businesses

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Earlier this month Urban Innovation21 announced a third round of grants for small businesses in underserved communities. The latest competition will award $100,000 in grants for small businesses in Homewood.

WilliamGenerett
WILLIAM GENERETT JR.

“We are really excited about the work to connect our region’s success to some of its poorest communities in a way that will ultimately provide wealth opportunities for minorities, women and resident-owned businesses,” said William Generett Jr., CEO of Urban Innovation21. “With the grant competition in Homewood, we look forward to propelling business creation and growth in a community that is in need of an economic boost.”

To date, Urban Innovation21 has provided over $2.8 Million in direct capital and business assistance to local startups. Vernard Alexander, founder and CEO of the Minority Networking Exchange, who also provides coaching to entrepreneurs and business owners, knows several individuals competing in Urban Innovation21’s grant competitions.

“I think (grant competitions) are important because they spark interest in entrepreneurship, pride and community,” Alexander said when asked if he believed the grants would have an impact on Homewood and the Hill District, where another competition recently occurred. “I believe so because no one is really focusing on business development in those communities.”

For his part to promote small businesses, Alexander organizes “cash mob” events where he gathers individuals to shop in local small business districts on a designated day. Despite his support for the grant competition, Alexander said entre­preneurs should look into additional sources of funding.

“In my opinions a lot of current and aspiring entrepreneurs depend on the possibility of grants too much. There are not many organizations/agencies giving business grants. Most are giving micro enterprise loans of $25,000 or less. My advice to entrepreneurs is to use bootstrapping methods to fundraise. Look for things you can eliminate from personal expenses to help you raise capital. Use that savings to leverage other money. There are some online sites where you can raise money through social media.”

The Homewood grant competition will present grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000, as well as up to ten grants of $500 toward no-interest micro-loans of up to $5,000 from Kiva Zip, a Website that enables individuals to make direct loans to entrepreneurs in Kenya and the United States. Two technical support awards will also enable entrepreneurs to raise funds through a crowd-funding platform.

According to a study prepared by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services in 2009, Homewood has significantly more low-income households than other neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. It is estimated that 50 percent of the Homewood community is not in the labor force and more than one in three people are living in poverty.

“I want to congratulate Urban Innovation21 and Homewood entrepreneurs on this exciting opportunity,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. “Under my leadership, our city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority is providing support to organizations that are ensuring Pittsburgh’s Third Renaissance reaches neighborhoods throughout our City. Urban Innovation21 has a terrific mission that is in line with our goal to connect more jobs to communities through innovation-driven economic growth.”

(Complete information on the Homewood-based grant competition, including application instructions, can be found at http://www.urbaninnovation21.org/grants. Applications are due Feb. 15, 2013.)

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