As Miami residents continue to deal with a housing affordability crisis, many of the city’s smaller commercial enterprises are also challenged.
Nonprofit Miami Foundation wants to give those businesses led by women and people of color a better chance of survival with its Open For Business program.
In its second year, most of the program grants are funded through a $20 million commitment from Wells Fargo. Last year, the foundation provided 170 small business owners across Miami-Dade County $3.8 million in grants and loans.
“A lot of people don’t realize business ownership is a key part of wealth creation,” said Brittany Morgan, Miami Foundation’s economic resilience director. “We all know commercial rents are really high and those issues are hitting your favorite barbershop or salon.”
Morgan views the Open For Business program as a way to support entrepreneurs that have faced pandemic challenges, and struggles before it began in March 2020. She is all too familiar with stories of small businesses that have invested heavily in their leased workplaces, only to be shown the door by difficult landlords.
Tendra Ferguson, founder of Ten’s Kitchen, a Cutler Bay soul food and Caribbean restaurant, considers the $100,000 loan she received in last year’s round of funding from Miami Foundation a relief.
“Getting bank loans didn’t work for me,” Ferguson, 41, said. “I’m overwhelmed and when I got the deposit, it was unbelievable.”
Since quitting her full-time job to launch her business in 2019, she’s had many difficulties. Starting with a food truck, she learned that she would need a commissary to maintain it. Renovations for the site she wanted to be her commissary were costly and she still needed to pay her employees. The loan last year freed up capital that gave her breathing room in a competitive food service industry.
Like Ferguson, architect Jason Tapia is a Black small business owner who got a boost from the first round of grants from the foundation. Tapia is the principal behind BC3, a design firm.
Tapia and his partners Kevin Michael of information technology firm Invizio and Jean Longchamps of Zia Construction received commercial real estate down-payment assistance to buy and co-own an office space in Allapattah.
Tapia was “turfed out” of three different office properties and thinks property ownership can open doors to business opportunities in a different way, since he and his colleagues serve the Black community.
“It’s important to have that collateral as a biz owner,” Tapia said. “They’re always looking for assets and something to put a lien on. We’re not looked at as favorably from a lending standpoint. It puts you at a disadvantage when you want to get a loan. Having lines of credit connected to your assets is important. This is leveling the playing field.”
Jenny Flores, Wells Fargo’s head of small business growth philanthropy, considers the strength of Miami’s small business community a cornerstone of the city’s “vibrant economy.”
The deadlines to apply for the foundation grants, which are administered through three financial funds, is April 15, June 15, and August 15. More information about applications can be found at https://miamiofbloans.org/