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100 small businesses in Allegheny County will each get $10,000 from Comcast

Braddock east Pittsburgh steel business.JPG
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The Mon Valley Initiative and other local organizations will work with Comcast to distribute $1 million in small-business grants within Allegheny County. The Homestead-based nonprofit hopes some of the money will help post-industrial communities that have suffered from a lack of investment.

One hundred small businesses in Allegheny County will each receive $10,000 from Comcast late this summer, no strings attached, according to company representatives.

The telecommunications giant announced Thursday that its RISE Investment Fund will award the money to minority and women-owned firms that employ 25 or fewer people and are at least three years old. Businesses can apply for the funding between June 1 and 14.

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“$10,000 is a lot of money to a small business,” said Laura Zinski, the CEO of the Mon Valley Initiative. She noted that, in many of the neighborhoods her organization serves, “This [Comcast grant] would pay a year's rent. … It can cover payroll.”

The Mon Valley Initiative, along with Neighborhood Allies and the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, will help businesses apply for the money.

Zinski expects eligible applicants to include a wide array of entities such as barber shops, small restaurants, coffee shops and daycare centers.

She noted that small businesses often struggle to survive in the Mon Valley, where the steel industry’s collapse has resulted in decades of population loss.

“These are communities that are already struggling, where … working capital is always tight,” she said. Comcast’s charity “really does help bring some additional resources to places that often don’t make the cut when it's large-scale [investments].”

Nationally, entrepreneurs of color and female business owners also find it especially difficult to attract capital.

Women accounted for only 2% of venture capital raised in the U.S., and federal data shows that, while 40% of white-owned businesses received all of the non-emergency financing they requested between 2019 and 2020, just 13% of Black-owned businesses did. The Federal Reserve also found that nearly half of Black-owned firms didn’t get any financing at all, compared to one in every four white-owned businesses.

“We have seen [that] the aftermath of the two twin terrors that have affected the Black community in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County – the legacy … of institutional racism combined with the recent COVID-19 pandemic – has devastated the African-American community,” Pittsburgh city councilor Ricky Burgess said at a news conference to unveil Comcast’s initiative.

Black business ownership declined by about 40% during the earliest months of the pandemic, according to Fed research. But programs like Comcast’s RISE Investment Fund offer hope, Burgess said, and he praised the company for offering unrestricted grants instead of loans they must pay back.

The program is part of a larger social equity initiative at the company. It distributed its first round of grants to women and minority-owned businesses in other U.S. cities about a year ago. Allegheny County is part of a third wave of donations, which also includes Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, and the Twin Cities.