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Spokane Inclusive Business Catalyst: Fueling Economic Growth for Underserved Entrepreneurs

By: Joey Gunning, Strategic Growth Manager, Greater Spokane Inc.

BIPOC small and underserved businesses in our community have often faced barriers to accessing traditional funding and business development resources. In fact, certain populations within Spokane have experienced systematic exclusion from full participation in many aspects of economic prosperity. Business ownership is an important element in closing the wealth gap.

That’s where the Spokane Inclusive Business Catalyst (SIBC) comes in. SIBC was launched in 2023 by Greater Spokane Inc. (GSI) as a business accelerator program designed to support underserved small business owners in Spokane County. The inception of SIBC was guided by a vision identified in our Believe Spokane campaign, aimed at increasing economic vitality. Strategies in the campaign were developed to (among other goals): (1) solidify critical services to support small and underserved businesses; and (2) implement equity-minded tactics to focus on targeted populations to ensure none are left behind.

To achieve these goals, we turned to trusted community partners, whose existing relationships and expertise played a pivotal role in creating and leading a platform where underserved entrepreneurs could access vital resources, mentorship, and support. Since launching the program in the summer of 2023, GSI has partnered with Spokane’s Multi-Ethnic Business Association (AHANA), Aim & Build Consulting & Development, and the Women’s Business Center to bring four cohorts through the program. In addition to the training and resources the cohort graduates are awarded a $5,000 grant each with funds raised from the Believe Spokane campaign (to be matched by $5,000 from the business) to accelerate their growth. The goal is for graduating businesses to increase revenues by 25% after the first year and 50% after the second year.

SIBC and cohort participants

By the end of July 2024, the program will have graduated 32 entrepreneurs, with a total of $160,000 awarded to these small businesses from GSI. Several program graduates have already benefited significantly from the program.

Devika Gates, President and CEO of Ancillary Analytical Services LLC, was a graduate of our very first cohort (June 2023). We followed up with her in March 2024 and received the following update:

“Since graduating from the SIBC program, we were able to buy supplies to open up a new service to my clients (calibration of analytical scales). Gonzaga University’s Biology department has shown interest in having us calibrate their scales, and we have produced brochures with information on services that we provide. We benefitted greatly from this program, the amount of material we learned, and the resources provided to us was invaluable.”

Melodie Chapman, Owner of Island Style Food & BBQ, was also in that first cohort, and these are her remarks:

“The information learned during the accelerator classes, as well as the grant, has been extremely helpful. It has helped us weed through resumes to interview and hire better candidates. We have not only doubled our number of employees, but we have also been able to double our revenue and it has been steadily increasing about 3-5% every week.”

The SIBC program also contributes to the goals identified in our region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), known as THRIVE Spokane. THRIVE Spokane aims to create a resilient and inclusive economy where all members of the region have the opportunity to thrive. Specifically, the CEDS includes goals to: (1) create vibrant and inclusive communities; and (2) build the capacity of an ecosystem of support by and for BIPOC business owners. SIBC contributes to this vision by empowering underserved entrepreneurs with the resources, mentorship, and funding necessary to grow their business. The program helps to create a more robust and dynamic local economy, driving innovation and job creation.

We firmly believe that diversity and inclusivity are not just ideals, but essential pillars for a prosperous community. The SIBC is an example of how collaboration and inclusivity can drive economic growth. The SIBC fills a critical gap in the community by offering a low-barrier, structured program that includes mentorship, financial assistance, and training that covers a wide range of topics tailored to be unique for each cohort based on their individual needs.

Looking ahead, we are committed to building on the success of the SIBC program and graduating many more cohorts. We plan on launching a website this fall for the community to learn more and apply for future cohorts.

Together, let’s continue to empower diversity and inclusivity and shape a brighter, more inclusive future for Spokane. Contact Joey Gunning at jgunning@greaterspokane.org for more information.

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