Rural Small Business Outreach
The Alabama SBDC works with entrepreneurs and small business owners in every city, town, village, and cross roads. The AL Department of Commerce – Rural Development Division has targeted 40 counties with a population under 50,000.
Rural small business owners play a key role in all facets of life within rural communities, but they often face different challenges than those in metropolitan areas, including geographic isolation, spotty broadband services, a lack of banking and healthcare services in the area, difficulties in hiring and retaining qualified workers and barriers in accessing capital to build their businesses. The Alabama SBDC is working to level the playing field.
As a pathway to rural prosperity in Alabama, the Alabama SBDC provides resources, tools, education and support to build thriving, sustainable rural communities for generations to come.
The common denominator in all these counties is the rural business owner—the innovative and gutsy entrepreneur who lives beyond the hub of a major city. The Alabama SBDC is committed to creating a stronger economic environment for rural businesses and is working with local governments, chambers and community organizations to reach as many aspiring and existing entrepreneurs to help them start, grow and expand.
The Alabama SBDC has been intentional in our support of small rural businesses. We work to build sustainable rural economies by supporting small enterprises, services and projects. By improving rural prosperity, increasing opportunities for agriculture and expanding bio-economy, the SBDC is striving to create thriving communities where people want to live and raise families, and where children have a bright future.
The Alabama SBDC covers all 67 counties. In 2020, over 51% of our clients were located in rural areas (according to USDA’s definition of rural). This number is down from previous years, as the SBDC experienced a surge of new clients from urban areas requesting assistance with disaster programs.
Did you know?
Rural entrepreneurs start businesses at higher rates than their urban counterparts and play a particularly vital role in rural America, creating roughly two-thirds of new jobs and supporting the economic and social wellbeing of their communities. Small-town entrepreneurs benefit from a lower cost of living and less competition, but they may suffer from a limited customer and employee base.
The most important factors to consider when deciding where to locate your business are those factors that matter most to you and your business. What does your startup need to succeed? Will your business rely on people physically coming into your location, such as a restaurant? The cost of renting space and the availability of a sufficient customer base will be big factors in your decision. If you’re starting a technology business that will serve clients all over the country remotely, the availability of skilled employees you can hire as your business grows will be a larger concern.
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Mary Jane Fleming
Alabama: Grants to Start/Grow a Woman-Owned Business
While you may think that federal grants are just a click away, that really isn’t the case. It is true that federal dollars are available in the areas of science, medical research, education and technology development, but no such grants exist specifically for women-owned businesses. The federal government may fund projects that empower women, but such funding is often set aside for nonprofit corporations; for-profit businesses are not eligible.
We have listed below your best options from the private sector. Remember that these are very competitive grants; you may want to review the requirements and application materials with your Alabama SBDC Network business advisor.
- The Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program: This program awards five grants per year. The businesses must be 100 percent women-owned and have founding principles of social consciousness, sustainability and innovation, plus be ready to move to the next phase of development. In 2014, the program awarded $125,000 in grants.
- Huggies Brand — Mom Inspired Grants: The grant awards up to $15,000 to advance the development of innovative products inspired by the joys of motherhood. The awardees also receive resources to further develop their products and startup businesses. Ended in 2015.
- FedEx Think Bigger — Small Business Grant Program: Applicants are encouraged to share their visions to receive a portion of the $75,000 awarded in grants. Part of the judging involves the general public voting for the finalists, so participants may promote their businesses while garnering votes.
- Idea Café Small Business Grant: The Idea Café is a free gateway that hosts different grants on its site. Its current grant is the 16th Small Business Cash Grant, which awards one $1,000 grand prize to a business with the most innovative idea.
- InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge: This business challenge is sponsored by the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Women’s Business Ownership. The challenge awards three winners $30,000 in prize money for businesses that have an impact on the lives of women.
- Chase Google — Mission Main Street Project: Chase and Google have partnered to award $3 million in grants. In 2014, recipients were awarded $150,000 to help take their businesses to the next level. Recipients also received a trip to Google headquarters, a Google Chromebook laptop and a $2,000 coupon toward a market research study with Google Consumer Surveys.
- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR): Eleven different federal agencies participate in this awards-based program, which incentivizes and enables small businesses to explore their technological potential. Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR): The STTR program reserves a specific percentage of federal research and development funding to provide funding opportunities in research and development. Talk with your Alabama SBDC Network business advisor to learn how you can partner with the state’s major research institutions to compete for one of these awards.
- Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corp (WVEC) Small Business Competition: This competition, organized by Capitol One andCount Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, allows participants to present two-minute pitches for a chance to participate in a nine-month business accelerator program.
- Wal-Mart Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative (WEE): As part of a huge Wal-Mart initiative, sourcing opportunities for U.S. and international companies will increase to $40 billion over five years.
- Zions Bank — Smart Women Smart Money: This Utah-based bank’s grant annually awards $3,000 across six different categories, including business.
- Fundera’s Zach Grant: Submit a three-minute video to compete for a $2,500 grant awarded annually.
Finally, don’t forget to ask your SBDC business advisor about the Alabama Launchpad competition. The goals of the Launchpad Competition are
- Provide proof of concept grants and seed capital to advance early stage technologies.
- Spotlight early-stage business ideas and companies that have considerable market potential.
- Provide a vetting mechanism that helps local investors evaluate the market potential of early stage technologies and companies.
- Connect new entrepreneurs with a network of key individuals and leaders across the state that can help them succeed.
- Build a pipeline of early stage companies that will be become tomorrow’s leading firms.
- Increase collaboration among the participating universities.