KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A program launched to help the smallest Kalamazoo businesses survive the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is offering another round of grants.

This is the third year for Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grants. The program started in May 2020 as a way to help businesses with 10 or fewer employees cover costs at a time when pandemic protocols emptied many restaurants, cafes and shops.

Molly Trueblood, associate director of community impact for small businesses at the United Way of South Central Michigan, said recipients used their individual $5,000 grants in a variety of ways, from catching up on operating expenses to helping the business owner cover basic living necessities like rent and food.

Trueblood says United Way of South Central Michigan is focusing on the smallest businesses because they have the least access to resources.

“Our small businesses make up the fabric of where we live. They employ the most people, they make up the culture of our community and they’re our friends and family,” Trueblood added.

Trueblood says a handful of the 190 businesses from the two previous rounds of grants have closed, but the program has had an obvious positive impact.

“We’re just really trying to keep the businesses with this. So if we keep the businesses open and keep the default rate to 1 to 2 percent … we think we’re doing our part,” she said.

In partnership with the city of Kalamazoo and with support from the Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence, United Way of South Central Michigan plans to award 60 grants this spring and another 60 in fall. To be eligible, businesses must:

  • Be located in the city of Kalamazoo;
  • Employ 10 or fewer people;
  • Have been operating for a year or longer, with documented proof;
  • Generate annual revenue of $1 million or less;
  • Not be a previous recipient of Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grants

In the past, United Way has prioritized businesses owned by Black, indigenous and other people of color, as well as businesses owned by women or located within Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo neighborhoods. Those groups are highly encouraged to apply “in an effort to remedy historical disparities that exist in funding sources,” the grant program website states.

United Way of South Central Michigan started accepting applications Monday. As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, Trueblood said businesses had submitted 33 applications and about 47 others were in the process of applying. Eligible businesses have until 5 p.m. on May 13 to complete the online submission process.

United Way of South Central Michigan will decide who gets the grants on June 1 and notify recipients June 2, 3 and 6. Trueblood expects all the grants to be dispersed that month.