The economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt across the world – but small businesses continue to suffer disproportionately compared to large corporations equipped with cash reserves and emergency funds. Close to home, in the neighborhoods surrounding Columbia, many of Harlem’s beloved small businesses have deep concerns about when—or even if—they will be able to reopen.
In response, Columbia University has created the Columbia Emergency Loan Fund for Small Businesses. Two loan programs will be available, each designed to meet specific needs of individual businesses. Small-scale manufacturers can apply for a loan ranging from $500 to $5,000, while storefront businesses can apply for a loan of $5,001 to $50,000. Both programs offer low interest rates as well as a grace period for payments.
The Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Center, which has been working tirelessly to assist small businesses in the neighborhoods that surround Columbia since the onset of COVID-19, will help guide local businesses on the University’s loan application process. Housed at the Business School, the SBDC has been working with business owners to secure loans through the federal government or local banks, but will now also be able to help businesses receive funds directly from the University.
“Most businesses will need to pivot their business model in some way in order to reopen successfully,” says Kaaryn Nailor Simmons, the director of the Columbia-Harlem SBDC. “The SBDC has designed a robust training and consulting program to help businesses reconsider their business model. The Emergency Loan Fund will provide capital necessary to make the business pivot.”
Columbia Business School will administer and review loan applications and the University will make the final decisions on how the funds are distributed to selected applicants.
The process of choosing the right loan, and completing the steps to secure it, can be intimidating for small businesses, says Simmons, making the SBDC’s work all the more vital in ensuring that post-pandemic Harlem looks as vibrant as it did before.
In addition to offering loan-application guidance and counseling, the SBDC has also recruited Business School faculty members, private-practice lawyers, and Columbia Law School students to teach businesses how to renegotiate their leases, since rent is one of the biggest expenses for small businesses.
The Loan Fund exemplifies Columbia’s commitment to ensuring the future of its community, the fabric of which is made up of Harlem’s small businesses. “There is a symbiotic relationship between Columbia University and the small businesses in Upper Manhattan,” says Simmons. “Residents and business owners are our family members, friends, and neighbors. Our neighborhoods comprise a diverse region of New York City, which serves as a microcosm for our students as they prepare to go forward in the world.”
Though it will likely take more legislation to relieve small businesses on the scale that is needed, the University’s loan fund provides some immediate relief in hopes of getting the neighborhood back on its feet and bringing Harlem back to life.