Mason extends a helping hand to small businesses affected by COVID-19

The Community Business Partnership (CBP), a program within the Mason Enterprise Center, is helping Fairfax County administer $46 million in grants to help small businesses and nonprofits affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Almost all the money comes from the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“It says that Fairfax County is pretty comfortable utilizing the local university with its expertise and financial acumen to help out small businesses,” Mark Scarano, CBP’s executive director, said of Mason’s participation.

The program certainly puts Mason at the forefront.

The grant manager is Mason alumna Dana Mariano, JD ’01. Of the 15 application reviewers she has hired, five are master’s students from Mason’s School of Business. Scott Sizer, BA Geography ’95, who is Fairfax’s public/private partnerships coordinator and leading the county initiative, reached out to get the CBP involved.

“I’ve worked with Mason on a whole variety of things,” Sizer said. “Mason is always actively seeking ways to engage in the community. There is a long-standing relationship between the county and Mason, so this made a ton of sense.”

It also is a ton of work.

Sizer said 6,280 applications were made to the program, with 2,300 approved for grants from an original pool of $26 million. Now, with another $20 million to administer, those applications first waitlisted will get another look.

Grants can be as much as $20,000, depending on the size of the business, with 83% going to businesses with 10 or fewer employees, 49% going to minority-owned businesses and 41% going to women-owned businesses, according to the county.

“It’s an honor for me to participate in this program in this manner,” said Mariano, who is also a chief financial officer for technology startups in the area. “All the [Mason] grad students I’ve been working with have been fantastic. They’re quick learners. Their educational background with Mason has been a key component to the success of the grant review program.”

Mariano said her Mason experience has helped her as well.

“I use my law degree and experience in education every day,” she said. “It’s negotiating contracts, learning to research different answers to questions.”

That is also part of what the CBP and Mason Enterprise Center do to promote small business growth and help entrepreneurs of all experience levels.

And though the CBP had never before managed such a large grant program, “there was a lot of trust in the organization,” said Jody Keenan, managing director of the Mason Enterprise Center. “The county knew the organization has systems and processes and expertise in place to scale up an activity like this.”

“They’ve done it very quickly,” Keenan said. “And the county has been pleased and impressed by the activity so far.”