Smart Answers

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. But don't expect easy money. Most programs have tough requirements, forcing applicants to demonstrate economic disadvantage, a viable business plan, and creditworthy backers.

The Small Business Administration funds the 8(a) business development program, which helps disadvantaged entrepreneurs procure government contracts. To qualify, a business must be 51% owned and operated by a "socially and economically" challenged individual, a category that includes most ethnic minorities. But be warned: The process requires a daunting amount of paperwork. The SBA also runs 93 women's business centers, which provide technical assistance. Groups such as the Latin Business Assn. and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce offer similar resources. And don't forget about private lenders, many of which have minority loan programs. If she's persistent, your wife just might join the ranks of another minority group: well-trained and amply funded entrepreneurs.

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