How do you build a business toolkit to fight social injustice? 

Environmental impacts affect people and society, and lack of governance can lead to negative social and environmental consequences. Low-income communities bear a disproportionate burden of environmental and social injustices that stem from historically intended and unintended actions. Small businesses in these communities are not exempt from the negative impacts. In response, governments and organizations are offering resources to support eligible businesses in historically underserved communities. If your small business is in one of these communities or in a Native Tribal community, you could benefit from the programs. Your business may be able to utilize the following list of tools to help start, grow, and strengthen your small business through direct application or collaborations. 

Direct Support for Your Business 

1. SBA Community Navigator Program 

As a business owner you are probably already aware of the Small Business Administration (SBA), but they offer a wide range of resources and services that may not be on your radar. 

The SBA created their Community Navigator Pilot Program to reduce barriers often faced by underserved entrepreneurs recovering, growing, or starting their businesses. The program funds 51 organizations that work to improve access to SBA and government resources for American businesses. Projects span a range of diverse communities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The funded organizations serve as lead entities called “hubs”, which will incorporate “spokes,” organizations that have built trust in their local communities and will be the ‘boots on the ground’ that will connect small businesses to critical resources and assistance, including:

  • financial assistance and access to capital
  • contracting and procurement
  • marketing, operations, business development, and exporting
  • industry-specific training

Reach out to the hub that works with your locality to discover what resources are available.

2. SBA Learning Center 

Knowledge is power. Harness that power through free online courses provided by the SBA Learning Center. No matter what stage your business is in, there are walk-through resources available to help you plan, launch, manage, market, and grow your business. 

3. SBA Government Contracting – Small Disadvantaged Businesses

If your business can contract with the government, you’ll want to read this. 10% of Federal Government contracts, about $50 billion, is pledged to go to small disadvantaged businesses. The SBA has set up steps for eligible businesses to resister to begin doing business with government entities. Contact your local SBDC to find out more information on what types of businesses are able to be contracted.  

4. Minority Business Development Agency 

The Minority Business Development Agency may already be on your radar, but it is still a great resource to help minority owned businesses secure capital, compete for contracts, become eport-ready, and identify strategic partners. Gain support from one of the 30+ program offices spanning over 30 states and Puerto Rico by contacting the nearest MBDA location to you. 

5. USDA Rural Energy Program Through Justice 40

The Justice 40 Initiative is a government effort implemented by the Biden Administration to deliver at least 40 percent of the benefits of federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. You might be asking yourself, how will businesses be able to take advantage of this funding? Well, the Department of Agriculture initiated a Rural Energy for America Program that would provide grants to agricultural producers and small businesses that want to dive deeper into the renewable energy space. Let’s break down this program and find out if your business could qualify for grant funding to spearhead your renewable energy journey. 

Who can apply for this Rural Energy for America Program Funding?

  • If you are an Agricultural Producer with at least 50% of your gross income coming from agricultural productions you can apply for this program. Agricultural producers can be located in rural and non-rural areas. 
  • You can see if you are in an eligible rural area that qualifies for funding by checking your address here. Businesses located in rural areas must have populations of 50,000 residents or less.

What are the borrowing restrictions for these loans?

  • Borrowers must be United States citizens or must be legally admitted for permanent residency
  • Private borrowers must commit to an agreement that loans funds will stay in the United States

What type of loans and financial assistance is available? 

  • There are loans available of up to 75% of total project cost for the renewable system or improvement
  • There are grants for up to 25% of the total project costs for the renewable system or improvement
  • Renewable Energy System Grant Range: ($25,000-$500,000)
  • Energy Efficiency Grant Range: ($1,500-$250,000)

Where can my business apply for these grants and loans?

6. EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program 

The space for small businesses to develop sustainable technologies is expanding with a growing need for innovation that will foster economic growth without hindering the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a resource called the Small Business Innovation Research Program that will allow small businesses to receive funding for a proposed technology that will shape sustainable infrastructure and technology. This program runs annually and includes a two phase competition model for funding. In 2021, the EPA set aside $3,089,894 in funding to 30 small businesses to employ new technologies in the sectors of clean water, air quality, homeland security, sustainable materials management, safer chemicals, and risk assessment. 

How does the funding for the Small Business Innovation Research Program work?

  • 30 small businesses chosen receive up to $100,000 funding for a six month period where they develop a “proof of concept” for their proposed technology
  • The second phase includes funding of up to $400,000 to develop this concept and bring it to market 
  • Apply for program here 

How will my small business benefit from this funding?

  • By receiving funding from the SBIR program, small businesses will be able to directly address materials and infrastructure needs without the financial burden. You can learn more about how each of the 30 businesses chosen used the funding provided by the SBIR program in the development of their new sustainable technology by clicking on this link

7. Arizona Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Deployment Plan

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill made $5 billion available for the positioning of publicly accessible electric vehicle chargers along highway corridors nationwide. States are responsible for following Justice 40 protocols when distributing the allocated funds to the businesses or investors of the charging infrastructure.  For example, the state of Arizona is set to receive $76.5 million in federal funding through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Plan over the next five years, $30.6 million of which could be allocated to disadvantaged communities. There is an opportunity for small businesses in disadvantaged communities to invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and have a portion of the investment paid for (depending on the funding guidelines of each state). The investment could attract more customers into a business because EV owners would have to stop and spend at least 30 minutes (depending on the charger type) to charge their vehicles at your business location. 

Discover Support Through Collaboration

Most federally funded programs don’t end up funding businesses, except through loans. But, the non-profit organizations that are funded could be great partners to support your business and strengthen your community. Once you are aware of the local organizations and the ways they are utilizing their resources to make positive impacts, then, relationships can be built to accomplish aligned visions. 

8. Indian Business Incubators Program

The US Department of the Interior has established the Indian Business Incubators Program (IBIP) which will provide competitive grants to establish and run business incubators that serve entrepreneurs who will provide products or services in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. The award term for these grants will be for a 36-month project period, with annual reviews and payment disbursements with a ceiling award of $300,000 annually and a floor award of $100,000 annually. If your business provides products or services in American Indian and Alaska Native communities, be on the lookout for freshly funded business incubators in your community that could offer support for your endeavors. Since 2022 is the first year of the IBIP program, there is currently little information available on the organizations that  will be funded. By being aware of this program, you can begin to search for organizations funded by this program to work with to help grow and establish your business in your tribal community. 

9. Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Grants  

A critical component to integrate environmental justice into business is through workforce development and hiring. The EPA has initiated Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grants to encourage organizations to recruit, train, and employ low-income and minority communities living in areas that are affected most by living in contaminated areas with environmental barriers such as solid and hazardous waste. 18 communities are selected to receive $3.3 million dollars in funding to allow these individuals to develop necessary skill sets to secure jobs in the environmental field. This initiative, developed by the Biden Harris Administration is one component to a larger commitment to address disadvantaged communities and economic development. If your business works in waste management or aiding in cleaning up waste sites, there could be opportunities for current or future employees to have funding for training. 

10. The Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program

The EPA has established their (EJCPS) Cooperative Agreement Program, which provides financial assistance to eligible organizations working on or planning to work on projects to address local environmental and/or public health issues in their communities. Organizations funded by the EJCPS could be future collaborators in supporting your business, employees, or the communities that you serve. You can access a list of the 2021 projects here.

Put Awareness to Action

Being aware and understanding available resources is the first step in acquiring support for your business. Applying for eligible programs is the next step. Contacting your local SBDC or MBDA office can be very useful in gaining technical assistance to start, grow, and strengthen your business. It can also be beneficial to seek out and communicate with organizations that are looking to support businesses like yours. Running a small business is never easy. With the endless list of todos it may seem overwhelming to take the time to reach out and work with organizations. But know that these organizations are stepping up to help out businesses like yours to make it easier to grow and thrive. Capitalize on the opportunity by utilizing the available resources. It will only benefit you and your small business in the long run.