The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has received a $2.5 million grant to engage in targeted outreach to small businesses in underserved communities, the school announced Thursday (Oct. 28).
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) awarded the competitive funding under the Community Navigator Pilot Program administered by the SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurship Education.
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.
“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 ASBTDC 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 Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized building our small business ecosystems back better so that all of our entrepreneurs have a fair shot at achieving the American dream of business ownership,” said Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. “We need to meet businesses where they are with resources to start, grow and be resilient, and the Community Navigator Pilot Program will power a trusted network of community partners to connect America’s entrepreneurs with the SBA. The program’s Community Navigators will develop strong relationships with deeply trusted community-based organizations that will tap into one-on-one, targeted support from programs designed to help them create jobs and drive innovation.”
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,” ASBTDC 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
ASBTDC will also develop and share tools for the spokes and provide market research and specialized expertise for businesses.
The Arkansas Community Navigator project seeks to assist businesses with access to capital, business development, contracting and procurement, marketing, operations, and exporting. This project will allow ASBTDC and partners to help small businesses address and overcome some of the systemic challenges that face entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities.
By leveraging and empowering existing community-engaged and culturally knowledgeable organizations and programs, the Navigator project will provide the platform for equipping small businesses and entrepreneurs in minority, rural, and other underserved communities across the state.
“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,” Singleton said.
“Arkansas has a lot of room to improve its business start-up climate. This grant will go a long way in improving the odds of success for small businesses in Arkansas and we are excited about partnering with ASBTDC to do just that,” said Randy Zook, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas President and CEO.
ASBTDC expects to provide training and technical assistance to more than 5,000 new and existing small business owners during the two-year project.