Initiative Foundation helps connect small businesses to big grants

The Initiative Foundation is connecting up to 765 small businesses in central Minnesota with their Small Business Relief grants in the coming weeks.

The Initiative Foundation will distribute up to $7.8 million over six weeks, Jeff Wig, the Initiative Foundation’s vice president for entrepreneurship, said in a press release from the foundation.

The Initiative Foundation typically distributes $2 million in grants per year.

“We believe this is the largest grantmaking endeavor our foundation has ever engaged in,” Initiative Foundation President Matt Varilek said Monday.

The state approved the Minnesota Small Business Relief Grant Program in June, which was overseen by the Minnesota Department of Jobs and Economic Development. Most of the funding for these $10,000 grants, intended to help businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, comes from the CARES Act.

Half of the grant money is to be distributed within the state of Minnesota by the initiative’s six foundations, according to the release.

Exactly how much money for how many businesses is still a ballpark figure, as the Initiative Foundation validates the eligibility of grant recipients chosen through a lottery process that prioritizes veteran-owned businesses, women, minorities and micro-enterprises (companies with less than 6 full-time employees). Priority was also given to businesses adversely affected by executive orders “such as the business could not operate at more than 50% of normal capacity”, the DEED website noted.

According to DEED, $60.3 million was available for grant rewards through the lottery process. There were 5,780 applicants selected statewide.

The initial list of grant recipients included 301 small businesses based in Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties, Varilek said.

Varilek said Monday that the Initiative Foundation hopes to cut its first check later this week.

“This is a major push for us, but to the extent that this is true, we would also draw attention to the fact that this is about helping companies that are engaged in extraordinary efforts to keep flow,” Varilek said.

The Global Center mall on Third Street North is pictured Monday August 17, 2020 in St. Cloud.

Cultural Mall grants help local retailers

According to the act. Facilities must lease space to at least 25 tenants, have 50% or more tenants with fewer than 20 employees, and have at least 50% tenants whose businesses are majority-owned by individuals who identify with categories specific to racial or ethnic minorities.

At least half of the grant funds, which could have reached $250,000, must be used to provide rent relief to existing tenants.

Global Center LLC in St. Cloud is the only cultural mall outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area to be initially chosen as the recipient of a Minnesota Cultural Mall Operator Grant. The 12 grant recipients will undergo a validation process before receiving funding.

The building has more than 30 tenants, owner Nasir Khan said.

Clothing for sale is displayed in the Global Center mall on Third Street North on Monday, August 17, 2020 in St. Cloud.

“They have been affected by the coronavirus, so we want to provide them with the maximum relief allowed by the state,” he said.

Khan said his plans aren’t fully solidified as he’s still waiting for his grant to clear and funding to arrive. However, he said he prioritized rent relief for his tenants.

COVID-19 relief fund helps regional nonprofits

The Initiative Foundation has also been involved in providing funds for the state’s Emergency Small Business Loan Program and has set up its own funding for provide grants for peacetime emergency child care.

In addition, the Foundation Initiative also changed the focus of its own grants, Varilek said.

“We basically threw our normal grant guidelines out the window and moved all of our grants to the COVID response,” he said.

An entrance to the Global Center mall on Third Street North is pictured Monday, August 17, 2020 in St. Cloud.

The Foundatoin Initiative created a COVID-19 relief fund to help regional nonprofits and also told grant recipients that when the pandemic hit, they were essentially freed from previous requirements and instead used money to keep the lights on.

Future rounds of grants will also provide funds for the short-term response to COVID-19.

The Fondation Initiative was founded at the end of the 1980s in the midst of the agricultural crisis. Its mission is to enhance the vitality of greater Minnesota, Varilek said, and help diversify the economy. Although he has said he wishes there was no crisis, the Initiative Foundation is proud to be able to help its neighbors.

The Initiative Foundation serves Benton, Cass, Chisago, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright counties and the Leech Lake and Mille Lacs Bands of the Ojibwe Sovereign Tribal Nations .

Sarah Kocher is the business reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Contact her at 320-255-8799 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @SarahAKocher.

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