Mason-based SBDC network plays critical role supporting entrepreneurs during the pandemic

Jody Keenan. Photo by Creative Services.

The George Mason University-based Virginia Small Business Development Center Network is helping a record number of community entrepreneurs navigate their response to the COVID-19 financial crisis and prepare for economic recovery.

Between March 20 and May 15, the Virginia SBDC Network trained more than 6,900 people by webinar—40% more than were trained in person in all of 2019. Visits to the website swelled by 440% during that time and visits to the site to find a local SBDC soared by 450%.

The Virginia SBDC Network of 26 offices, including four Northern Virginia-based Mason Enterprise Centers, is advising community business clients via phone, email and web conferencing. The SBDCs are educating, advising and assisting small businesses with applications for Emergency Injury Disaster Loans and the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program loans, as well as formulating post-COVID strategies.

“The SBDC advisors are at the forefront of helping small businesses respond to the COVID crisis,” Virginia SBDC State Director Jody Keenan said. “The team pivoted quickly to work remotely with business owners who needed immediate guidance to access federal disaster assistance financing.”

Plans for business recovery assistance are also under way to support businesses when stay-at-home orders are lifted and businesses can reopen. Additional Small Business Administration funding of $4.5 million is being allocated to support expanding SBDC capacity through September 30, 2021.

The Virginia SBDC Network also supports economic development organizations, trade associations, chambers of commerce and special interest organizations that represent small businesses. The Mason-run network has locations at three other universities, six community colleges, and six chambers of commerce or economic development organizations throughout Virginia, with a focus on helping community entrepreneurs start and grow companies, creating new jobs.

In addition, the Community Business Partnership, supported by Mason, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, and the Fairfax County Small Business Commission, is managing a $2.5 million microloan fund that opened for business April 28 and a $25 million small business grant program that will launch June 1. The fund has drawn interest from more than 2,000 businesses.

“The Mason-led business assistance programs are collaborating with local economic development organizations to help support and sustain the small business economic base,” Keenan said. “We’ll be working together on recovery and resiliency initiatives for the foreseeable future.”