The Journal Gazette
Thursday, November 18, 2021 1:00 am

Grant to aid area's small businesses

$1 million to reduce barriers

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

The region's small businesses are about to get a boost.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has selected The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center as one of 51 designated Community Navigator Pilot Program Hubs, officials announced Wednesday.

The program's goal is to reduce barriers small businesses often face in accessing much-needed support.

The NIIC, which will serve as a hub, will receive a $1 million award over two years to fund the collaborative work with spoke organizations, which will work directly with entrepreneurs. The effort's official launch is Dec. 1.

Ted Baker, The NIIC's interim president and CEO, said the grant will allow the nonprofits to expand support for female entrepreneurs, minorities and those small businesses located in rural communities.

“We appreciate the SBA's continued support to power innovation and business builders in our region,” Baker said in a statement. “We began piloting the hub-and-spoke concept about six years ago through some of our programs. We are excited to work with our regional partners to expand this innovative concept.”

The NIIC has aligned with five partner – or spoke – organizations for the program. They are: Allen County Public Library, Bankable, Fort Wayne Urban League, Purdue University Extension Community Development and Region 3a Development and Regional Planning Commission. Each organization will receive part of the $1 million award to underwrite their participation.

Susan Baier, Allen County Public Library's executive director, said the library's mission is “to enrich our community through lifelong learning and discovery.”

“This extends to utilizing the library's resources to assist rural entrepreneurs and small business owners to overcome the challenges they face,” she said in a statement. “The library has assets and staff expertise at its disposal, which could make an impact in helping rural entrepreneurs make connections and build technology skill proficiencies.”

Terra Brantley, Fort Wayne Urban League's president and CEO, also commented on the program.

“The NIIC Community Navigator Pilot Program directly aligns with the goal of the Fort Wayne Urban League to create a minority business incubator and entrepreneur center,” she said in a statement. “The League is honored to collaborate with The NIIC as a partner spoke organization on this worthy endeavor that directly targets the underserved in our community.”

The program is an American Rescue Plan initiative. It will provide $100 million in funding to 51 organizations that will work with over 400 local groups to connect America's entrepreneurs to resources across the country, a news release said.

The only other Indiana grant recipient is the Indiana Small Business Development Center, which serves western and southwest Indiana, Baker said. 

The International Business Innovation Association recognized The NIIC as the 2020 Entrepreneur Center of the Year – Mixed-Use. The NIIC's corporate mission is “to be rocket fuel for great ideas, people and companies.” 

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