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Last year, Twin Cities business owner Georgia Fort searched for capital to grow her new media company, BLCK Press, and start her independent news show.

Though billions of dollars are available to small businesses every year, only a small portion of investment and loan capital go to women of color trying to scale their companies.

A new initiative, which St. Paul's Center of Economic Inclusion launched, is designed specifically for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities and provided Fort the financial support she needed.

Through the center's Vanguard Accelerator and Fund program, Fort was among an inaugural wave of recipients awarded more than $450,000 combined in forgivable loans. Fort applied her portion to creating two full-time jobs and launching her independently-produced news program on CW Twin Cities, a show Fort said is the first in Minnesota with a Black woman as host.

The center is accelerating its mission to help women such as Fort through the next phase of its new program.

This week, the center's founder, Tawanna Black, announced applications are open for a new batch of finalists who will receive more than $400,000 in awards by this summer, along with training and coaching.

"The number of [applications] we got in our first round came in right about where our expectations were," Black said. "This time, we're hoping they exceed our expectations a bit and help us not only meet our goals but also fuel the appetite for additional investors to come into our program so we can meet the needs of even more business owners."

The accelerator offers financial help to business owners in the form of $5,000 grants, forgivable loans between $25,000 and $250,000, and financial and technical support — based on need — for acquiring or redeveloping a brick-and-mortar property.

A marketing firm, beauty product supplier, construction business and an environmental consulting firm were among the businesses to receive funding through the first round of awards from the accelerator, Black said.

The accelerator and fund launched at the tail end of 2022 with support from JP Morgan Chase, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, San Diego-based accelerator operator Founders First CDC and St. Paul-based real estate firm NEOO Partners.

The St. Paul-based center is one of six entities that received $5 million from JPMorgan as part of its AdvancingCities Challenge to boost Black and Latina women-owned businesses.

To be eligible for the accelerator program, a company founder must be Black, Indigenous or Latina with at least three full-time employees and revenue up to $3 million through the past three years.

Applications for the second round are due May 16.

Star Tribune staff writer Dee DePass contributed to this report.