The City of Cambridge Community Development Department (CDD) Small Business Challenge ("Challenge") is designed to foster neighborhood engagement with the local business community and to support small business associations and groups of neighborhood businesses.
The Challenge provides one-time grant matching funds between $1,000 and $5,000 for well designed projects that bring together neighborhood and business interests around shared goals of improved design, promotion, and business resiliency in a commercial area. Proposals must demonstrate a positive benefit to a given community in which businesses, residents, and visitors alike will benefit from the prospect project.
The Challenge encourages applicants to develop innovative ways to invigorate their commercial areas and business districts. This could include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Neighborhood Tourism/Events Planning - Work with Economic Development Division (EDD) of CDD, Cambridge Office of Tourism, Cambridge Arts Council, or other city departments to create one-time promotional marketing materials or events around a shared common vision for the district.
- Placemaking - Work with the Economic Development Division (EDD) of CDD and Cambridge Public Works to install decorative or interactive elements in the built environment to emphasize the unique cultural or commercial assets of a business district.
- Technology & Skills Training - Partner with a local technology expert and/or skill trainer to build the skills of businesses, and/or local business associations, to help increase sales, increase efficiencies, and develop online marketing and social media strategies.
Funding offered is a reimbursement grant in which the City would reimburse the applicant for a portion of qualifying projects, up to $5,000. Applicants may be awarded less than $5,000 depending on funding availability.
The Program will only reimburse applicants after the applicant has fully paid for any work covered by the grant and after the project is determined to have been completed in accordance with the contract between the City and applicant. Any work paid for or conducted prior to a signed contract or "Notice to Proceed with Improvements" will not be considered as eligible for reimbursement.
Grant awards are determined by the Small Business Challenge review committee who exercises the following considerations: 1) total project cost 2) potential impact in community or given area 3) lasting impact and sustainability of project 4) feasibility of project and soundness of proposal 5) ability of project to be replicated.
Funding through the Small Business Challenge is available for public projects that benefit a group of businesses and/or commercial district. Applicants must detail this benefit in their Small Business Challenge applications. Funding made available through the Small Business Challenge is intended for the purposes expressly stated in the applicant's grant application and may not be used, in any part, for personal or political purposes. Examples of inappropriate use of Small Business Challenge funding includes but is not limited to:
If an applicant is found to be in violation of Small Business Challenge grant funding terms, the applicant may be required to reimburse the City of Cambridge in full. Additionally, the applicant may be restricted from future Small Business Challenge grant funding opportunities.
- An applicant is awarded grant funding to string up holiday lighting at their business and at a cluster of businesses around them to brighten the district they operate in. The lights are taken down in the summer to help reduce unnecessary wear and tear. A business may not use the lighting for their own display purposes inside their store with the lights are not in use outside.
- A business association is awarded funding to develop a new social media platform to help promote their business members and association work. The association agrees to host a regular video series by a campaigning member of Cambridge City Council who is particularly supportive of small businesses. Unless the association is willing to host promotional materials for all City Council candidates as part of a larger election awareness effort, the association may not use the social media platform to distribute political contest for a singular candidate.
- A business association is awarded funding to install decorative flags in a given commercial district. The flags are stored during the winter months. A business in the district is hosting a special event for Valentine's day and wants to use the flags to draw attention to their business being open late for shoppers. Unless other shops are joining to create a cluster of activity, the business may not use the flags for their personal event.
Examples of Applicable Small Business Challenge Grant Projects
The following past examples meet grant guidelines:
- Large, reusable banners for marketing or branding purposes.
- Decorative and whimsical elements (e.g. streetscape planters or a large branded sign) that help act as gateway identifiers to a unique business district.
- Hanging flower baskets installed in a business district to unify area.
- Temporary art, or decorative elements, installed in first floor windows of unoccupied or vacant commercial properties.
- Interactive events (e.g. walking tours) that celebrate a collection of local businesses and engage residents and/pr customers.
- Re-designed websites to promote small business promotion efforts.
- Social media workshops or financial management trainings for business groups.
- One-time marketing and promotional materials to boost a commercial area or new event (e.g. "swag bags" or branded items like T-shirts and hats).
- Adding a one-time pop-up retail component or additional innovation to an existing, or established, event (e.g. a craft market at a movie night).
- Launching a business-to-business network with targeted goals.
The following criteria must be met for application to be considered:
- Applicants must be a Cambridge business association or group of neighborhood business owners.
- The area of focus must be a Cambridge business district or cluster of street-facing Cambridge businesses. Applications for projects focused on residential areas will not be considered.
- Preference will be given to projects that help newly-formed, or struggling-to-form, business groups or commercial districts/commercial nodes.
- Preference will be given to areas of need in which design, promotion, or business resiliency has not been as active as some other parts of the city.
- Tenants must have written approval from property owners to participate in proposals that entail building renovations or changes.
- Applicants must comply with all State and local laws and regulations pertaining to licensing, permits, building code and zoning requirements.
- Additional Requirements:
The City of Cambridge reserves the right to apply additional criteria before accepting proposals of program demand exceeds budgeted resources. Past recipients of a Small Business Challenge award are welcome to apply again. First-time applicants, or applicants not awarded in previous years, will be given special consideration.
- A small group of 2-3 businesses may apply together if they operate in proximity of each other, for example on the same block or street corner.
- Costs not covered by the Small Business Challenge Grant include City fees for permits or licenses. A portion of printing costs may be covered but they must account for no more than 30% of total proposed costs, be part of a broader re-branding or marketing effort, and have a direct connection to the grant pilot goals of commercial area betterment.
- Projects already in progress will not be funded, though new elements of an existing project will be considered.
Deadlines & Review Process
A completed application, that includes a signed application along with a full grant proposal narrative and supporting documentation as detailed on the last page of these guidelines, is due September 27,2019 at 5:00 PM. Incomplete applications will not be reviewed.
Completed applications will be evaluated by a grant committee and awardees will be notified by October 28, 2019. Awardees will have until December 1, 2019 to confirm, in writing, acceptance of their award. Failure to confirm will result in a forfeiture.
Awardees should be prepared to implement plans no later than March 2020. Projects must be fully paid for by June 1st 2020 to qualify for reimbursement before the end of the Fiscal Year (June 30 2020). CDD staff will work with awardees one-on-one to establish bench marks to ensure grant projects are realized and on track for completion. Grant funds will be awarded upon project completion and submission of evaluation plan results.
A second round of applications will be considered for Spring 2020, pending availability of funds.
Please contact Christina DiLisio at (617) 349-4601 or email@example.com for information on available funds, reimbursement grant procedures, or any questions related to the Small Business Challenge.