Seattle University will use a three-year $500,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase to continue work started this summer to support Central District businesses as they seek to grow and thrive in a rapidly changing neighborhood.
Seattle U’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center previously received a $60,000 economic development grant from JPMorgan Chase to find ways to support Yesler Terrace residents for when they transition back into the redeveloped Seattle Housing Authority community, said IEC executive director Sue Oliver.
One recommendation the IEC heard from residents was to find ways to conduct long-term work with area businesses to connect owners with Seattle U and other support services.
Through a $100,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase, the IEC began a pilot program over the summer, reaching out to Central District and International District businesses to determine what support they need to succeed, Oliver said.
“We heard what not to do,” Oliver said. “Things like a hundred page business plan or coming in and leaving.”
She said the IEC found many organizations already working on solutions for businesses facing hardships in the neighborhood, such as the Central Area Collaborative, which conducted business surveys with the Seattle Office of Economic Development. Seattle U student interns are now working with the data collected, Oliver said.
Following financial hardships brought on by the long delayed 23rd Avenue Improvement Project, Mayor Ed Murray announced in late February the creation of a $650,000 business stabilization fund. Despite the additional funding, several businesses have since closed. Oliver said student interns worked with a number of Central District businesses during that time, assisting them with compiling the financial information required to qualify for stabilization funds.
The CAC also received $102,000 in April through the city’s Only in Seattle initiative to continue its commercial revitalization efforts.
Oliver said IEC students and team mentors started this summer by approaching businesses to see what assistance the center could provide, such as marketing, acquiring capital, business planning.
“We show up not really knowing until we listen and start asking the questions,” she said.
The work is primarily focused around supporting businesses that are minority-, women- and immigrant-owned.
Access to capital is a common theme heard by the IEC team, Oliver said, often for commercial leasing, facade improvements and daily cashflow needs. Marketing assistance is also requested, especially to attract new customers as new resident move into the neighborhood, Oliver said.
With a three-year business plan, the IEC is launching its Resource Amplification & Management Program with guiding principles incorporated into a three-year plan. On top of the $500,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase, Oliver said additional funding sources are being sought.
Through RAMP, qualified student interns will serve as year-long client relationship manager trainees with a portfolio of 4-5 businesses, with added assistance from experienced business mentors.
The RAMP team is also working with the nonprofit Yesler Community Collaborative, which has a focus in the International District and CD, as well as Yesler Terrace.
“We need to protect and strengthen valuable community assets in these neighborhoods,” said Doris Koo, lead consultant with Yesler Community Collaborative, in a news release. “Business owners and entrepreneurs help us create more livable neighborhoods and preserve the cultural diversity that makes Seattle a great city. The RAMP project can make a huge contribution to their continued growth and success.”
The RAMP team’s first year will be a formal launch, Oliver said. There are about a dozen students and team mentors working with more than 20 Central District businesses and organizations now. Oliver said the goal in the second year is a significant ramp up, hopefully in both students and businesses. The target is more than 200 businesses. The third year of RAMP will involve scaling the program’s efforts to produce “tight metrics for success,” she said.
“It’s really grassroots, and we’re going to create a website and we’re going to have all the materials that support it,” Oliver said. “Really what we’re finding is a lot of this is coming from word of mouth.”
There is also currently discussion about the creation of a Seattle U community accelerator in the Central District, providing a space for the team, community and local businesses to come together, Oliver said. What that may look like is being explored now.
The RAMP team is offering a variety of services for free, including advisory services for nonprofits and organizations assisting Central District businesses, connecting businesses with volunteer mentors, existing civic and private business services, business coaching and planning. Oliver said there may be workshops in the future where RAMP would charge a nominal fee to cover some of its costs.
“The RAMP business-campus-community engagement model requires successful community partnerships and aligns with the Seattle U mission around community engagement and empowering leaders for the greater good,” said Joseph Phillips, Dean of the Seattle U Albers School of Business and Economics, in a news release.