When entrepreneurs think of sources of capital, loans from banks, community organizations and vendors come to mind, along with funds from family and friends and crowdfunding campaigns.
However, on Aug. 2 at a meeting of the DC First Fridays program sponsored by the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, 50 people learned of another, lesser-known source of funding: grants.
Katherine Mereand-Sinha, the program manager of Innovation & Equitable Development Office of the District of Columbia Department of Small & Local Business Development (DSLBD), talked about grant programs that her employer offers for businesses and said one particular program focuses on business owners east of the Anacostia River.
“The Dream Grant is a grant program specifically for businesses located in Wards 7 and 8,” Mereand-Sinha said. “The Dream Grants program is designed for new and existing micro-businesses for about $10,000. During the past two years, we have had 17 businesses from Ward 7 and 17 businesses from Ward 8 receive monies from this program.”
Mereand-Sinha said that approximately $200,000 have been given out to Dream Grant recipients.
According to District of Columbia’s Citywide Grants Manual and Sourcebook, a grant is the award of financial assistance to a recipient to support or stimulate the accomplishment of a public purpose as defined by the federal or District law that authorizes the grant.
Grants aren’t the product of the procurement process and not considered to be a loan, an equity stake or a gift, Mereand-Sinha said. They don’t need to be paid back unless the grantee (the person or organization) who receives it fails to perform as promised, she added.
Section 1-238 of the DC Code covers grant administration and transparency, noting that grants over $50,000 are typically competitive and that qualification for them includes not owing the District government any money and the Office of the City Administrator supervising the uniform guidelines on grants.
While grants are well-established in the nonprofit sector, they are rarely utilized in the business sector, Mereand-Sinha said.
“Grants for small businesses are very, very rare,” she said. “Many jurisdictions don’t have them. Most of the grants offered by D.C. government are for nonprofits.”
She noted the District appears to be the only jurisdiction that she knows that offers grants to entrepreneurs.
“For many years, throughout the country, the nonprofit sector went after grants while the business community didn’t,” she said. “There has been an upsurge in social entrepreneurship in the District for the past decade and I speculate that has encouraged D.C. officials to offer grants to those businesses.”
Mereand-Sinha said her agency has grant-making authority for two programs: the Dream Grants and a program Grown in D.C. that focuses on supporting local businesses throughout the city. Her agency also administrates two programs, Main Streets that offers funds for businesses that are located on selected city corridors and the Clean Teams outfit that keeps trash and litter from high profile thoroughfares and neighborhoods.
Mereand-Sinha said there are programs for the establishment of minority and women-owned business assessment programs, a new living wage certification program, a small business capital access fund and, at the mayor’s discretion, a trash compactor grant program.
She made it clear to the audience that to participate in the District’s grants programs, they need to have “clean hands.”
“You need to make sure that your taxes are up to date and your business records are in order,” Mereand-Sinha said. “It will be difficult to get a grant if those things are not in order.”
To look for grant opportunities, she said sources such as the District Grants Clearinghouse, The Funding Alert that lists grants by the D.C. government and participating in pitch competitions are good to go to and utilize.
Evie Washington, who owns All N 1 Medical Supplies and Treasures, a store on Minnesota Avenue NE, said she found Mereand-Sinha’s presentation useful and informative.
“This was a good presentation,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know about grants for businesses and I am glad that Kate came to us to explain the program. That’s the way D.C. government should operate and that is to inform the people of the opportunities that they can take advantage of.”