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Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

BGE and Hello Alice are offering $20,000 grants to small businesses in the Baltimore area

By meerna Jun18,2024
BGE and Hello Alice are offering ,000 grants to small businesses in the Baltimore area

Baltimore Gas & Electric and fintech company Hello Alice have partnered to provide local small businesses with $20,000 grants for a third year. Companies have about a month to submit their application.

BGE Energizing Small Business grants focus on businesses run by historically underrepresented groups, and at least 30 will go to businesses located in adjacent business districts.

This comes after two major legal battles over race-targeted business subsidies. Hello Alice and Fearless Fund, a venture capital firm led by Black women, were sued last year in separate class-action lawsuits.

This month, a federal judge blocked the Fearless Fund from providing $20,000 grants exclusively to small businesses run by Black women. But in late May, an Ohio judge dismissed a case against Hello Alice over its grant programs for Black entrepreneurs.

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“It is unfortunate that small business capital has become a political discussion,” said Carolyn Rodz, co-founder and CEO of Hello Alice. “Small business has historically been the only area that has had bipartisan support, and the idea that any company’s capital is under attack is incredibly frustrating.”

Despite the political and legal challenges, Rodz said the company will operate and continue to offer opportunities to small business owners.

Arion Long, founder of Femly, a period care brand based in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood, was a 2021 recipient of a BGE Energizing Small Business grant. She wanted to expand her customer base and said she used the grant money to expand Femly’s Ecolite. “intelligent dispenser” for toilets in offices, stadiums and universities.

“Thanks to this grant, we not only finalized the construction of the first one, but we were also able to reserve part of these funds to start designing the second and third blocks,” she said. “Today we have four different toilet dispensing options.”

Long founded her company in 2016 but struggled to find financing through traditional venture capital channels and bank loans to develop the brand.

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Rodz said she knows this challenge well. In 2017, she founded Hello Alice, which was her third business venture. Hello Alice is a platform that aims to help small businesses gain access to capital.

She said she remembered what it was like to receive the grant at the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey – adding that it was an affirming and encouraging experience.

“A $20,000 grant makes a significant difference for a company that is starting with very limited capital,” Rodz said. “They can start to make progress and show proof of concept. Every donation makes a huge difference.”

Long also said the grants are essential for small business owners. However, the decline of affirmative action and the reversal of diversity, equity and inclusion programs have threatened funding streams.

Last year, the conservative law group America First Legal filed a class-action lawsuit against Hello Alice over a grant program that, in partnership with Progressive Insurance, will provide $25,000 to 10 Black-owned small businesses to use to purchase a commercial vehicle.

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The legal troubles for Hello Alice and the Fearless Fund began shortly after the anti-affirmative action group American Alliance for Equal Rights won a Supreme Court case against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina that ended affirmative action in higher education.

In Baltimore, small businesses make up 99.2% of all businesses in the metropolitan area, according to the Small Business Administration. Since the launch of the BGE-Hello Alice grant program in 2021, it has provided over $13 million to over 650 companies. The program pays out approximately $2 million twice a year.

To qualify, applicants must be for-profit, have been in operation for at least one year, have fewer than 25 full-time employees, have gross revenue of less than $7 million and be located in BGE’s service area of ​​Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard Counties.

Fellows also receive access to Hello Alice funding tools and resources. Applications can be submitted until July 12.

“Baltimore is a city where our ecosystem is small and vibrant enough that you can really impact it,” Long said. “An opportunity like this is essential to growth here in Baltimore.”

By meerna

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