In 2022, the Ozarks Small Business Incubator (OzSBI) was chosen as a “spoke” in the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program, an American Rescue Plan initiative designed to reduce barriers that underrepresented and underserved small businesses often face in accessing critical support. The Community Navigator Pilot Program provided $100 million in funding to 51 organizations that worked with hundreds of local groups (spokes) to connect America’s entrepreneurs to government resources so they could recover and thrive.
Utilizing a “hub and spoke” model, the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program was designed to help level the playing field for America’s entrepreneurs, including those owned by disadvantaged groups such as veterans, women, and those from rural communities and communities of color. Grantee “hubs” served as centralized, lead organizations, and incorporated “spokes” like the Ozarks Small Business Incubator to leverage partnerships with deeply trusted community-based organizations to help small businesses navigate government resources and tap into critical resources.
The two-year grant ended on November 30th, 2023, and OzSBI is happy to report that it met or exceeded all the project goals it committed to. OzSBI’s goals for this grant included providing free mentoring to 210 unique businesses, assisting with $1.5M in loan and grant requests, working with clients that created at least 50 jobs in the region, and providing 435 hours of mentoring in assorted topics. The team at OzSBI worked diligently to meet these goals throughout the grant period and is happy to report the following results:
- OzSBI provided free mentoring to 289 unique businesses (goal: 210)
- OzSBI assisted with $1,655,186 in loan or grant requests (goal: $1,500,000)
- OzSBI clients created 88 jobs in the 7-county region (goal: 50)
- OzSBI provided 680 hours of free mentoring to our clients (goal: 435)
“The whole experience of working within the parameters of the Community Navigator grant, has been seamless and rewarding right from the start” said Heather Fisher, OzSBI CEO. “Our ‘hub’, Rural LISC, was very responsive, knowledgeable, and easy to work with. We are thrilled to have been able to expand our services and provide so much additional assistance to entrepreneurs for free.” she added. In the past, it has been necessary for OzSBI to charge clients for mentoring services, and being able to waive those fees meant that our services were available to everyone, regardless of their budgets.
Fortunately, although the Community Navigator Pilot Program has come to an end, OzSBI was able to apply for and receive a Community Revitalization Grant, another American Rescue Plan initiative through the Missouri DED, which will allow OzSBI to continue offering free mentoring through 2026. More information about this new grant project will be forthcoming as OzSBI fully launches the new and expanded program.