Henrietta Smaller thought the time was right last year to open a storefront for her online hair and beauty supply business for people of color.
She knew those products were in short supply throughout the Twin Cities because of some stores not making it through the pandemic and others damaged during the civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd in 2020.
A few months after she opened Stunning Beauty Supply in Burnsville, however, she realized she needed additional capital to sustain the business while building a customer base.
The money didn't exist in her savings account, and she felt her credit score wouldn't qualify her for a loan. Through online research, she found another option — grants for small business owners.
The stress was mounting for Smaller, who in addition to running her business as a solo operator was caring for her husband who had suffered a stroke.
She applied for several grants, including through Comcast. The Philadelphia-based telecommunications company offers $10,000 grants to businesses owned by women and people of color in the Twin Cities. She submitted her application two hours before the portal closed. Months later, at Christmas time, she was informed she was one of 100 recipients.
With grant money, Smaller was able to cover operation expenses, add shelves, bulk up her inventory, install a salon chair for hair braiding services and purchase a vehicle to allow for next-day delivery to local customers. She also funded marketing and advertising campaigns on Google and Facebook.
The Twin Cities is one of five metro areas targeted by Comcast for the initiative, which launched in late 2020 amid a social reckoning of racial disparities in America following Floyd's murder in Minneapolis that year.
Since 2020, Comcast has awarded $11 million in grants, and it is providing $5 million more to fund businesses here, as well as Atlanta, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. More than 200 businesses in the Twin Cities have received grants through the initiative.
Through its Comcast Representation, Investment, Strength and Empowerment initiative, or RISE, the company is again offering $10,000 individual grants to 100 businesses in the Twin Cities. The window to apply is June 1-14. Businesses must be located in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott or Washington counties.
Businesses that have been in operation for three or more years and have 25 or fewer employees are the focus of the fund.
"The Comcast RISE investment fund ensures that 100 small businesses that exist today continue to exist tomorrow," Kalyn Hove, regional senior vice president for Comcast's Twin Cities operation, said in a statement. "The pandemic has created challenges and we continue to do everything we can to help businesses in our community until things get better."
Since Smaller received the grant money from Comcast last year, sales at Stunning Beauty Supply have increased. Smaller said she is also planning to transition into a new location.
"I would say 70 to 80 percent more people shop with us now," Smaller said. "With the marketing help, more people are finding us."