A Hand Up for the Disadvantaged

Help is available for women, minorities, and the poor -- but the approval process can be daunting

By Karen E. Klein

Q: What kind of help can my wife, who is half-Ecuadoran, get from minority small-business programs?

---- G.C., Fairfield, Vt.

A: As a Hispanic woman, your wife could be eligible for any number of programs designed to help economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs. But don't think easy money is on the way just because one of your in-laws happens to be Ecuadoran. Most programs have tough requirements that force applicants to demonstrate economic disadvantage, a viable business plan, and creditworthy backers.

The U.S. Small Business Administration funds the 8(a) business-development program, which helps disadvantaged entrepreneurs procure government contracts, and the Small Disadvantaged Business certification program. To qualify, a business must be 51%-owned and -operated by a "socially and economically" challenged individual, a category that includes most ethnic minorities. Applicants must also be able to prove that a "substantial and chronic social disadvantage" has had a negative impact upon their entry into, or advancement in, the business world. All individuals must have a net worth of less than $750,000, excluding their equity in the business and primary residence. Successful applicants must also meet applicable size standards for small businesses in their industry. No surprise: The process requires a daunting amount of paperwork. You can apply by contacting any SBA district office. For more information or questions, call 202 619-1850 or 800 558-0884.


  The SBA also runs 93 women's business centers in 46 states and four territories. The center provide assistance and/or training in finance, management, marketing, procurement, and the Internet, as well as addressing specialized topics such as home-based business, corporate executive downsizing, and welfare-to-work. All provide individual business counseling and access to the SBA's programs and services. The Vermont Women's Business Center (www.vtwbc.org) is located at Trinity College of Vermont in Burlington. They can be reached at 802 846-7164. You can find a listing of contact information for all the WBCs at www.sba.gov/womeninbusiness/wbcs.html. The SBA also sponsors an Online Women's Business Center at www.onlinewbc.gov that provides a resource database, information, counseling, how-to information, and a newsletter for women entrepreneurs.

Also check with private groups, like the Latin Business Assn. (www.lbausa.com) and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (www.ushcc.com), both of which hold business expos and offer guidance on starting and financing a business. The chamber has a helpful Web page that lists various funding resources for general businesses, as well as those owned by women and minorities (www.ushcc.com/access.htm). And don't forget about private lenders, many of which have minority loan programs or investment funds that target minority-owned companies. If she's persistent, your wife just might join the ranks of another minority group: well-trained and amply funded entrepreneurs.

Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at smartanswers@businessweek.com, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 6th Floor, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.

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