COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our global health and economy, but more than 250 of the Start:ME Accelerator Program’s network of microbusiness entrepreneurs in the Clarkston, East Lake, Kirkwood, and Southside Atlanta areas are trying to remain resilient during these challenging times. “Entrepreneurship is a team sport, and together we build hyper-local ecosystems and communities,” said Brian Goebel, managing director of Start:ME at Emory’s Goizueta Business School. Eighty-four percent of these businesses are led by people of color and 68% are led by women. Prior to the global pandemic, these entrepreneurs created 338 jobs and helped generate $7.9 million in annual revenue in 2019.
“The survival of these vital community businesses depends on how quickly we can respond to their needs with financial support and creative solutions,” Goebel said. Start:ME has compiled important tips, resources, and tools for small businesses and their customers during COVID-19. “Programs like Start:ME help promising micro-entrepreneurs close the knowledge, network, and capital gaps that stand between potential and success, which opens up critical new pathways to local economic development.”
Coronavirus has taken a staggering toll. A March 25, 2020 survey conducted by Start:ME of program graduate businesses revealed that 43% had decreased their hours significantly while 33% had shut down operations completely, 77% had experienced a significant decrease in sales revenue, 41% has decreased the number of employees and contractors, and 60% anticipated requiring emergency funding for ongoing business continuity. While 82% had seen a decrease in revenue, on a positive note, revenues increased for six percent of businesses.
“Every business surveyed expressed concern about reaching customers and generating sales, ensuring family needs are being met, paying for personal and business fixed costs, and responding to debt obligations,” said Goebel. “These entrepreneurs are not only focused on their business operations, but also critical needs like childcare, housing and health insurance payments, and access to laptops for business management and home schooling. Above all else, they need to connect with others experiencing the same issues.”
The Start:ME Program and its partners Friends of Refugees, East Lake Foundation, Focused Community Strategies (FCS), and Purpose Built Schools Atlanta are working to deliver direct referrals and application assistance for federal and local emergency recovery grants and/or loans, virtual platforms to share information resources, social media channel guidance, and general support.
“We have launched the Start:ME Resilience Fund Momentum campaign to provide emergency support to these important ventures that are the lifeblood of local neighborhoods,” Goebel said. While the program’s 80 mentors are on call to assist business owners, “Raised funds will be put to work in a variety of ways based upon the needs of Start:ME alumni ventures identified via ongoing impact surveys. Support to these ventures includes emergency continuity grants, traditional business transition to online sales consulting support, special learning and expert advisory sessions, and more. Start:ME has already invested in several laptop computers currently on loan to business owners who otherwise could not operate remotely.”