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Women and minority small business owners in Charleston will be eligible for mini-grants under a pilot program announced by the Charleston Area Alliance and city leaders on Thursday.

The program will offer grants ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 to existing women and/minority-owned small businesses within the city.

Charleston City Council President Becky Ceperley came up with the idea for starting a program in Charleston after seeing it implemented elsewhere.

“As I traveled to some of the other places in the country, I began to see this ecosystem that supported women and minority businesses and I started to look around and study it,” she said. “I thought, Charleston doesn’t have one of those and Charleston needs it. So that’s just sort of how it evolved, and it became a passion.”

Access to capital “remains the most important factor limiting the establishment, expansion and growth of women-owned or minority-owned businesses,” according to the Black Business Alliance.

Councilwoman Jennifer Pharr said she has talked with minority and women business owners in the city who say a little extra funding could go a long way in helping them succeed.

“Many businesses, they need help with simple things like accounting services,” Pharr said. “They need help with building a website. They need help getting a chair or a wall so that they can have someone else to come in and help them.”

Helping businesses expand will benefit the city, Pharr said, as business owners are able to spend more money here.

“They’re going to take some people out to go eat, they’re going to go to a concert, they’re going to do different things and the money stays in our community,” Pharr said.

Grant applications will be available on the Alliance’s website beginning Friday. All applications for this round are due by 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29. An advisory committee will review the applications that meet the criteria for the program.

Ceperley said the program is aimed at small businesses who have been operating at least a year.

“For example, what I always use is my hairdresser who would like to expand, but she has to buy another chair for somebody else to work with her,” she said. “So she can double her business and her profits, but she needs a little bit of capital to get it going. That’s the kind of person we’re looking at.”

Funding recipients will have 18 months to use the money and report how it affected their bottom lines.

“If someone receives a grant for $2,500, what we hope to see is that they’ve improved their bottom line by $5,000,” Alliance President Nicole Christian said.

If the first round of $50,000 in funding goes well, the program may be expanded to additional rounds, Christian said.

Funding for the program comes from Truist Bank, the mayor’s economic incentive fund and the Verizon Economic Development Fund.

Councilwomen Ceperley, Naomi Bays, and Mary Beth Hoover also contributed from their portion of the city’s Community Participation Grant Program, a discretionary fund given to each council member from the city’s portion of the settlement monies from the 2014 Freedom Industries spill. Ceperley and Bays also personally contributed, Christian said.

Lori Kersey covers the city and county. She can be reached at 304-348-1240 or lori.kersey Follow

@LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

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