This article was updated on April 22 to reflect that the IWBC has applied for the funding but not yet received it.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic may have a silver lining for the Idaho Women’s Business Center (IWBC): The Boise-based nonprofit organization could receive up to $840,000 in grants from the federal government it could use to expand a planned program to help support rural Idaho women business owners.
The funds are being provided as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, said Diane Bevan, executive director of the organization. With the funding, which the organization has applied for but not yet received, the organization could hire up to three or four more staffers, she said.
“In rural Idaho, we already had those plans,” Bevan said. “Now we will have more people to do it faster.”
The organization had already intended to launch its rural Idaho program, Idaho Rural Growth Initiative 44×22, “bringing small business education to all 44 Idaho counties by the year 2022.” Announced on March 10, the program consisted of three parts, the primary part of which was called the Accelerator. That program consisted of a four or six-week Accelerator business training workshop, Creative Framework, intended to cover the basic pillars of starting and running a business, according to the organization’s announcement.
The first round of Accelerators were intended to be led by identified local facilitators. They could be a member of a local Chamber of Commerce, an economic development agency, a library director or a local champion professional. Each facilitator could choose to be the presenter or to bring in local subject experts to teach their specific trade. In areas where the population is small, the IWBC would provide captured video content from professionals addressing the weekly topic.
In addition, Creative Framework would provide LivePlan business planning software to all attendees.
“The Idaho rural growth initiative was on our radar when we first proposed the IWBC,” Bevan said.
Six months ago, the organization started connecting with its rural partners including the Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Power and the governor’s office.
“We were talking about how we could do this great momentum of initiative and outreach to rural Idaho,” Bevan said. “It was boots on the ground. The next stage was identifying local champions, setting dates and getting training and materials.”
Then COVID-19 happened.
“We still are working with those who stepped up and said they would love to host entrepreneurial training. We haven’t canceled any,” Bevan said.
The organization set up a survey on its home page to capture its reach into rural Idaho.
“Some cities are so rural and small I had to look them up,” Bevan said.
Ultimately, the organization identified 177 women business owners across the state and is now partnering with daycare organizations and salons willing to host events, she said.
The CARES Act grants — each WBC around the country is eligible to apply for up to $420,000 per center, Bevan said — would launch a two-year effort beginning May 1 to connect with Idaho small businesses over COVID-19-related issues.
The organization would hire up to three to four more people to hold a statewide tour of listening sessions to connect with small businesses and create an extensive mentorship program, Bevan said.
“COVID-19 was a little bit of a setback,” Bevan said. “There’s strong women hanging in there, with some of them taking some pretty big pivots. It’s a little bit of a silver lining, having more women connect with us because of COVID-19.”
Idaho’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which hosts the IWBC, could also receive funding, Bevan added.
Bevan said she was relieved that the Small Business Administration had agreed to fund the IWBC in 2019 after two former IWBCs had shut down.
“If we were still in one of those years without one, we would have been left out,” she said.n