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The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation was recently awarded a federal grant to establish a new small business readiness and technical assistance program aimed at minority entrepreneurs.

The Chamber will receive $3 million in funding — awarded over four years — to establish the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Capital Readiness Program. It was among 43 organizations nationwide awarded funding to support business accelerator and incubator programs through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency Capital Readiness Program grant competition.

The program will support hundreds of socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs and business owners annually by preparing them for future growth and capital investment from a variety of sources, including CDFIs, traditional banks and small business grants.

“We oftentimes hear about minority-owned businesses that are finding it hard to get funding, whether it’s traditional bank loans or CDFI funding investments,” Kaaren-Lyn Graves, executive business consultant to the AZHCC, said. “They formed this particular grant so that people could go through some technical assistance services and an incubator program where the person could put together a business plan — really painting out the picture in terms of what they’re going to do with their business — and creating that plan, so that they can go after some funding.”

The Chamber is teaming up with Phoenix-based Raza Development Fund — the largest Hispanic CDFI in the nation — that will serve as a funding and financial education partner, Graves said.

Vice President Kamala Harris announced the Capital Readiness Program competition winners Aug. 4 in Washington, D.C., alongside U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and MBDA Undersecretary Don Cravins, Jr.

AZHCC program will help steer entrepreneurs toward funding, growth
The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation was the only organization based in the state to receive grant funding through the Capital Readiness Program. The Chamber received more than 30 letters of recommendation from state and industry leaders in support of the federal grant.

“With the support of Governor Hobbs, Senators Sinema and Kelly, Raza Development Fund, and many others that provided recommendation letters, we will be able to provide technical assistance and prepare businesses to receive funding to scale and grow, strengthening the state’s economy,” Monica Villalobos, president and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “This was a very competitive grant with more than 1,000 submissions and only 43 awards. We will continue to work with our partners to make Arizona a diverse global hub of business.”

Clients in the Chamber’s Capital Readiness Program will receive technical assistance from a business specialist who will sit down with them to assess their operations, Graves said.

From there, the business specialist will examine eligibility for potential funding opportunities as well as the Chamber’s existing incubators and accelerators, some of which include Avanzar, the DreamBuilder program, AscendPhoenix and the American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Project NABEDC.

The Chamber already has a national footprint through the Arizona Minority Business Development Agency Business Center. The new federal grant allows the organization to also provide services in California and Nevada, Villalobos said.

The MBDA Capital Readiness Program is investing $125 million to help underserved entrepreneurs nationwide grow their businesses. Once funding awards are dispersed to organizations, they will launch and operate business incubators and accelerators to prepare entrepreneurs to secure capital from the $10 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative and other sources, according to the Department of Commerce.

“The Capital Readiness Program marks the largest investment to support underserved entrepreneurs and businesses in Commerce Department history,” Raimondo, of the U.S. Department of Commerce, said in a statement. “The Biden Administration continues to make historic investments in building a strong, equitable economy, including by supporting our nation’s small and disadvantaged businesses.”