Between February and April of this year, 41% of Black owners have had to shutter their businesses nationwide, according to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study. The NBER noted that female, Black, Latinx and Asian businesses are particularly concentrated in industries hit hardest by the pandemic.
Comcast cited the study when it launched its Representation, Investment, Strength and Empowerment (RISE) initiative last week in an effort to boost struggling Black-owned businesses that may be stuck in survival mode.
RISE aims to boost small, BIPOC-owned businesses with grants and in-kind resource donations and training over a three-year period. Those include a media and technology resources program to aid businesses with their marketing and media campaigns, as well as "technology makeovers" in the form of upgraded hardware, software, and internet services for up to a year; online tutorials; and grants of up to $10,000. Comcast used NBER information to structure its phases of giving, with the first round of applications open to Black business owners, and the next open to other members of the BIPOC community as well.
“It’s personal for me,” Mark Nugent, Senior Director of Business Development for Comcast Oregon/SW Washington, told The Skanner. “I have family and friends in the Black community very close to me who are small business owners, and I’ve seen the struggles myself, personally. Being able to get your name out there, being able to have the technology you need to run and grow a business, those are critical. Those are things that aren’t just a convenience.”
He added, “Small businesses are the engine of our economy. That’s a really big piece of why we’re doing it.”
Nugent said the program had already received 2,000 applications nationwide for the technology makeover program.
Black Resilience Fund said his organization was working to get the word out about RISE.Cameron Whitten of the Portland-based
“Comcast as a company has gone through a lot of reflection on how business can truly be on the leading edge of racial justice, and doing more than what diversity initiatives have done in the past,” Whitten told The Skanner. “It’s not just the cash-flow crisis, but the way business is getting done right now is changing forever. Comcast is saying ‘We actually need to be supporting businesses--adjust to this new normal.’”
Comcast has been BRF’s largest individual contributor, with a $50,000 donation for unrestricted cash assistance that ultimately supported 157 families, Whitten said.
Whitten said that the low-barrier BRF application process allowed his organization to gather information about the needs of the local Black business community.
“For us, it was ‘We need to know what you need.
"We can’t fund everything, but you sharing with us is helping us to be better advocates,’” Whitten said. “We have taken that information to really shape how we advocate. When we discuss a partnership with Comcast, the positions that we take are based off of the information of our applicants, and the conversations that we document with our intake interviews.”
Applications for the quarterly program are assessed by a third-party in Philadelphia, Amy Keiter, director of external communications for Comcast Oregon, told The Skanner. Applicants do not need to be Comcast customers, but must operate businesses within Comcast coverage areas. For more information and to apply, visit www.comcastrise.com/apply.