Vanguard Accelerator grants calling for Indigenous business women  

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By Lee Egerstrom

A unique program to help Indigenous, Black and Latina women business owners in the Twin Cities metro area grow and expand their businesses is now open for a second round of financial grants and service awards.

But if you are eligible for this business assistance program, you better hurry. Applications for the Vanguard programs are open through May 16 for this year.

Seven Twin Cities business owners received $480,000 in loans and grants for expansion plans and training programs in a first round of awards announced in January. All recipients were women of color although none were identified as Native American.

The program, formally called the Vanguard Accelerator and Vanguard Fund, was started a year ago by the St. Paul-based Center for Economic Inclusion. It is a partnership program with two other organizations, the nonprofit Founders First CDC that assists minority businesses in several parts of the U.S.; and NEOO Partners Inc., a Twin Cities-based support group that assists small and medium-sized businesses with urban planning and real estate consulting.

J.P. Morgan Chase provided a $5 million initial grant to initially launch the programs. Other groups that include the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) also support the start of Vanguard Accelerator programs in the Twin Cities.

These programs provide both financial help through grants and forgivable loans and through training programs for women of color business owners.

Recipients must have been in business for three years, have annual sales of between $75,000 and $3 million, have three or more full-time employees, and they must be engaged in what is called “B2B” (business to business) in which they provide products or services to other businesses such as retailers.

The goal is to help these businesses and their minority owners grow sales and profits, create livable-wage jobs and generational wealth for the regional economy. These business objectives are often found by researchers and economic studies to have gapping disparities for ethnic groups.

The second round of applications for Vanguard assistance is open through May 16 on the Center for Economic Inclusion website, https://www.centerforeconomicinclusion.org/accelerator-grant-application.

One Native business owner did start applying for a grant in the first round but didn’t finish the process, a spokesperson for the Center said. She said the Center is “pushing for better outreach” to Native and ethnic businesswomen with the second enrollment period.
Recipients of Vanguard assistance can receive help from one or more of its programs. They include:

  • $5,000 unrestricted grants to support business growth as well as full tuition into a business accelerator program based on the company’s annual revenue.
  • Forgivable loans to support growth, sustainability and job creation.
  • Pre-development technical assistance including site development and redevelopment to support the company’s brick-and-mortar real estate needs.

“The goal of the accelerator program is to help support capacity for these small businesses to secure contracts with larger business organizations because that is what leads to sustainable wealth,” said Rebecca Toews, the Center’s communications director.

Tawanna Black, founder and chief executive at the Center, said her group and its partners are investing in minority women businesses to “fuel economic growth through the meaningful jobs and inclusive workplaces they can create with increased capital, connections, contracts and capacity.”

By supporting “Black and Brown” business founders, she said, the collaborating groups are helping all employers “transform the inclusivity of supply chains to benefit from the innovation” in these targeted communities.