the stimulus stretch.
Indigenous businesses need funders to revisit eligibility criteria of existing programs to survive, recover from pandemic.
March 9th, 2021
BY RICHARD LEWIS
When the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce issued this press release recently calling on the Province to employ assistance for businesses impacted by the latest COVID lockdown, it got me thinking about what other levers funders from both levels of Government have at their disposal to support businesses through the pandemic.
Even as vaccines roll out, a long and painful road to recovery lies ahead for the business community – and that’s for those lucky enough to survive to tell the tale.
Funders can and should do more with their existing programs to provide much needed supports to the business community. While additional stimulus will be essential, more in this case doesn’t necessarily mean more money. With the looming economic crisis in the post-pandemic world, budgets are tighter than ever and exploring every possible lever for economic recovery is a necessity.
An all-too-common theme I’ve heard from being in the trenches with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous entrepreneurs since launching Indigrow six months ago provides insight on how Provincial and Federal funding agencies can stretch existing dollars to better support those in need.
There are dozens of funding programs available for entrepreneurs to drive growth and success of their business through business planning, mentorship, marketing, entrepreneurial training, and everything in between. The problem is these programs were designed in the pre-COVID business world, and even with dozens of programs theoretically at the disposal of entrepreneurs, rigid eligibility criteria has made it exceedingly difficult to access programs for most businesses.
Depending on the program and funding agency, the list of disqualifying criteria is extensive and includes everything from competitive impacts to other business, to simply being in a certain sector such as service, wholesale, retail, or tourism.
The same can be said for fish harvesters looking to add quota and licenses to their enterprises to offset plummeting crab stocks in the 2J area off Labrador’s south coast. Unfortunately, the existing criteria deems existing enterprises ineligible for funding support by Ulnooweg, the Indigenous Financial Institution responsible for Indigenous business development in Newfoundland and Labrador, because they already own an enterprise and are not diversifying their catch. Never mind that these are Indigenous fish harvesters looking to increase access to an adjacent resource, such acquisitions – and I’ve worked on the projected cash flow statements – are a matter of survival for these enterprises that are crucial to the economy of rural, isolated Indigenous communities in Labrador.
Indigrow has supported dozens of businesses throughout the past six months, and despite a thorough understanding of the programs themselves and the application process involved, far too few of our clients have successfully accessed funding even though they are in desperate need for support.
The programs were just not designed for the current business environment, and as a result too many businesses are slipping through the cracks.
This is in no way meant to slight policy makers or front-line workers with funding agencies. Policy makers have an important role in ensuring taxpayers get value for their money, and without exception contacts at all key funding agencies have expressed a desire to do more; they just haven’t yet been afforded the flexibility to do so, and it’s time for this to change.
Saving Businesses Needs To Be The Priority
To get full value for current spend, funding agencies at all levels would be well-served to review and update eligibility criteria to make current programs more accessible to the business community regardless of sector, competitive impact, or some other criteria that was established before the pandemic. It is a fact that taking this step now will save businesses in our communities. Saving those most vulnerable is key to ensuring our economy stays afloat and at this point should take precedence even over new startups.
It may be a few months late, but the road to recovery will be a long one and our businesses need all the fuel they can get to survive the trip.