MobileCAN! Empowers Entrepreneurs – A $2.8 million boost for businesses

Last Updated: May 1, 2024By

Text by Michael Dumas

MOBILE, Ala. – Small businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the Mobile area now have access to expanded resources thanks to a landmark grant recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency.

The $2.8 million grant is facilitated through the MBDA’s Capital Readiness Program and was awarded to the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in collaboration with Innovation Portal and the University of South Alabama. This partnership, which is the only awardee in the state of Alabama for the Capital Readiness Program, will use the four-year funding to bolster programs and services for socially and economically disadvantaged individuals via the Mobile Capital Access Network, also known as MobileCAN!

MobileCAN! aims to provide technical assistance to 2,200 Mobile County businesses and entrepreneurs, helping them increase capacity, and access to capital and networks. More funding opportunities for these businesses will be accessible through the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), which is facilitated by Innovate Alabama.

The MobileCAN! initiative is built on a partnership between the Mobile Chamber, Innovation Portal and the University of South Alabama from an earlier grant by the Alabama Department of Commerce, which supported many of the programs that will be expanded to serve the business community.“The MBDA grant provides us with the unique opportunity to build upon the successes of our partnerships and earlier grants and expand services to support more small businesses and entrepreneurs in our area,” said Laura O’Connor, vice president of the Mobile Chamber’s community development department.

The University of South Alabama will provide two eight-week cohort programs, including an accelerator program to help existing businesses grow and a development program for entrepreneurs and those with new business ideas.

“Over half of the 28 businesses that participated in our Accelerator Program since 2017 have achieved success in criteria such as revenue growth, adding employees and gaining new customers,” said Don Mosley, Executive Director of the University of South Alabama Melton Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “In the Development Program, 42% of entrepreneurs who have participated were able to apply the concepts of the course to start a business. Some have even gone on to receive funding and place in statewide business competitions.”

The Innovation Portal will provide five programs, such as MoneyFest, TechAcademy, Real Advice Mentoring Program (RAMP), Portal Fund RISE (Reinvesting in the Systematically Excluded) and Idea Accelerator.

“With this grant, the MBDA recognizes the significance of growing local business to make an impact in their community. We strongly believe in the future of Mobile, which includes supporting people stepping out to fulfill their dream,” said Innovation Portal Executive Director Todd Greer.

The Mobile Chamber will lead five programs including Blueprint for Capital, Capital Access Mentorship Program (CAMP), Capital Access and Procurement Conference, Contractor to Entrepreneur and business navigation services.

“We have many resources, but they are often underutilized by small business owners,” said Barbara Peters, who directs the Mobile Chamber’s business navigation services. “Our goal is to connect these individuals to resources to start and grow their businesses.”

Business navigation services began as a pilot program funded through the Alabama Department of Commerce. In its first year, Peters said business navigation services supported more than 200 business owners, which led to additional support from the Mobile County Commission and now the MBDA. Part of the grant is also funding the hire of a second business development navigator.

Tessa Galea opened her business, Balance Mobility Therapy, in 2022 and has been connected with Peters and the Chamber’s business navigation services since the beginning. Galea and her fiance Daniel Krone, who operates the hot sauce company Third Eye Fire, learned about the Chamber’s small business programs and met with Peters, who helped them develop business plans, get business bank accounts and, most importantly, dispelled a lot of the fear and anxiety that can be obstacles for first-time business owners.

“Barbara really helped plant the seeds for growth and research and guidance, and her advice on all these things really helped us,” Galea said.

They are just two of more than 300 business owners and entrepreneurs supported through business navigation services since it was formed in 2022, including 800 referrals to resource partners to support their growth and development.

“The needs of business owners in this day and age are constantly evolving,” Peters said. “So much is changing every day with technology, and we want to ensure that business owners stay competitive in Mobile and beyond. We’re excited about the opportunities offered under MobileCAN!”

If you would like to learn more about the programs offered through MobileCAN!, call Barbara Peters at 251-431-8617.

This article was prepared by The Mobile Chamber Foundation using Federal funds under award MB23OBD0340330 from the Minority Business Development Agency, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Minority Business Development Agency or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Mobile Bay Magazine

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