Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Small Business Grants in the City of Boston

The statement that small businesses are the cornerstone of a city could not be truer, when describing the make-up of the city of Boston.  Our nation’s economy has been unpredictable and the city has witnessed the demise of some long-time staples over the past ten years.  But the fact still remains that some of the oldest, continuously-run, small businesses in the country are located right here in Boston.
 Boston has an eclectic business range made up of large corporations, educational institutes, chains, small businesses and even coops.  However, it is true that it is the small business that anchors the city and even truer that it is the ability to start a small business that anchors the community.  

The ability for a city resident to open a creative and innovative business on the Boston landscape is what makes the city of Boston the multi-faceted market that it is.  It is important that the opportunity remain available for such an environment to remain intact.  In place to facilitate the influx of development in Boston’s neighborhood are government and private programs that assist entrepreneurs financially in the form of grants.    

Because of the country’s economy, the city of Boston’s state aid has been decreased by over $100 million in the past 2 years.  As a result, the City of Boston has increased the local hotel tax by 2% and implemented a .75% meals tax to bring in more revenue.  Despite this, Mayor Menino has been committed to focusing on the needs of the city.  The city was allocated a one-time payment of $45 million from the reserve and Menino has implemented a 10-year plan to bring Boston back up from its economic downturn.  

Local businesses are encouraged to take advantage of the Mayor’s insight and planning.  The city is offering two grants in particular that assist with the renovation and enhancement of existing businesses.  The mayor knows, as well as business owners, that a proud business attracts the trust and support of customers.   And equally important, renovating our small businesses expresses the resilience of the city.  Knowing about these funding sources is fundamental for business owners as is the ability to execute the proposal process in an informed, timely and professional manner.  

What is a grant?

grant n (13c) 1 : the act of granting  2 : something granted; esp : a gift (as of land or money) for a particular purpose (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)
A grant is an allotment of money, dispensed to an individual or entity, towards pursuing a pre-determined purpose.  Money received in the form of a grant does not require repayment.  However, receiving a grant has ethical and legal relationships attached.  This ensures that the grantee is not fraudulent in their request and/or use of the funding.   

Where do grants come from?

Grants can be separated into to two categories: public and private. 
Private grants are grants that originate from private individuals or entities.  While public grants are grants that come from government and federal agencies.   The city of Boston offers an array of grants in the areas of urban renewal, development, farming, agriculture, and planning.  Additionally, private grantors also offer grants in a wide range of areas that may or may not have the city or governments interest involved.  

How do I get a grant for my business?

You must apply for a grant.  Each grantor has its own process for choosing a grantee.  The following are the general steps involved in the process.   

1)      Determine you needs
Prior to applying for a grant you need to have a plan in place.  It should reflect the vision that the new funding will help you realize.  Some questions that should be answered are:
·         What areas of my business need development?
·         How will this development benefit my business?
·         Who will benefit from this development?
·         How much will it really cost to realize this plan?
·         How will each dollar be spent?
·         Who will implement and manage each facet of the plan?

2)      Research funding sources
Now that you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and how much it will cost, you can begin to search for the funding source that will best assist you in realizing your goal.  Each grantor is interested in supporting a business that wants to achieve goals that are important to them.  It is your job to search through the grant listings and select grantors whose goals are similar to your business goals.  

The city of Boston (www.cityofboston.gov) offers a weekly listing of funding opportunities from outside sources that can be accessed on their website.  They also have a number of other resources available to aid in your search. 

3)      Submit a grant proposal
Once you have found a suitable grantor, you must submit a proposal detailing your business plans.  The proposal must highlight you business’ compatibility to the grantors requirements.  The proposal is very important; it is how the grantor gets to know your company.  Many business owners commission grant writers to assist in this phase of the project.  The proposal needs to be clearly written, well-constructed, and must include every detail that the grantor has specified as being necessary.  Missteps at this level will help the reviewer rule out nominees for the grant.

4)      Follow up
This may seem like a no brainer but following up with your contact person, after the proposal has been submitted, is crucial.  Reviewing grant applications is a job done by a real person.  If the reviewer has a conversation with you, they are more likely to remember your courtesy, and passion when reading or remembering your proposal. 

Good Luck!

Sonny Noto’s in East Boston

When I met my husband eighteen years ago he lived in East Boston.  Prior to our first date, I had never been to East Boston and was pretty amazed by the diversity.  The city is a bustling sector with a large Italian and South American population.  It is a great place to experience ethnic home-cooking with plenty of family businesses, boasting the recipes of their ancestors. 

On our first date, my husband took me to Sonny Noto’s Restaurant on Meridian Street, right in the center of East Boston.  It was not a fancy place; you just walked right up to the display counter and ordered from the menu above the grill.  The counter was manned by a muscular man whose twin was in kitchen whipping up orders, while a very large older man worked the register- his name was Sonny.  

The menu was full of dishes I had never tried before, arribiata, marsala, mussels marinara.  But it also included some sub shop style items I was more familiar with.  Like cheeseburgers, steak tips and salads.    I ordered the chicken Marco Polo, sautéed chicken medallions, in a red sauce with broccoli and mushroom on a bed of linguini, and began my love affair with Sonny Noto’s Italian cuisine.    

Eighteen years and three children later, my husband and I remain frequent patrons of Sonny Noto’s Restaurant.  In fact, our whole family patronizes the restaurant because of our recommendations.  We have never had a bad meal served to us.  And I have never heard someone complain of their food being overcooked, undercooked, poorly seasoned, scaled down or stale.  Anyone can slap some sauce on a noodle but when it is done with care and consistency people will come frequently.  

My rule for branding a restaurant a cheap eat is simple: the food must be inexpensive in comparison to the quality.  Sonny Noto’s Restaurant is definitely that.   I have picked Sonny Noto’s to be my cheap eat because it is actually very inexpensive and the quality is fantastic!  The most expensive Italian entree, Seafood Ala Noto, is only $16.00.  Even if you feel that $16.00 is a lot for one entree, the fact that the execution of the recipe is so perfect and the dish is packed with seafood should at least make it a well-enjoyed splurge.