What Is The SBA Community Navigator Program & Will It Help My Small Business?
With a new administration comes new initiatives and political priorities. One of the Biden team’s goals for the Small Business Administration is to help businesses that have been unintentionally been left out of economic relief programs. In many instances, this is because business owners from socially or economically disadvantaged groups may not have the connections and resources to effectively exploit programs that have limited funding.
The SBA Community Navigator Program aims to smooth out some of the bumps and obstacles women-, minority-, and veteran-owned, as well as rurally-based businesses might encounter when they try to queue up for an SBA program.
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Though the SBA is currently promoting a community navigator model, they didn’t invent the idea. A community navigator model is a strategy used by traditional organizations to reach customers that are generally overlooked. In the case of the SBA, this means connecting with entrepreneurs in underserved segments of the community.
Take this scenario: a business owner, fluent in English, who operates in a middle-class neighborhood and has some contacts in the local government goes to apply for a PPP loan. If he has questions, he can ask his contacts for advice about how to make sure his application gets seen and processed with priority. He finds out that he needs to apply through an SBA partner lender, not the SBA itself. He finds out exactly what documents he needs in advance. The program functions, more or less, as it was intended to.
But what if the business owner is an immigrant for whom English is a second language? She has local contacts within her low-income community, but they aren’t plugged into the broader government and financial system in the same way. She knows the SBA is running a relief program, but it has a lot of rules. She may have a hard time finding a translation of those rules that fully outlines all the minutia. She might have a harder time connecting with someone who can explain the rules to her. Because of that, when she does apply, her application might be missing necessary information. The chances that she falls through the cracks are higher. A community navigator program could help put her on par with the previous business owner.
So how is this accomplished?
Community navigator programs often use what’s called a “hub and spoke” model. The hubs form the center of a network and are typically a large, well-funded non-profit organization with a substantial amount of expertise. The hubs have the resources, but not necessarily the reach. A hub will:
- Coordinate meetings, planning, and strategy
- Develop curricula
- Develop best practices
- Hire specialized personnel (lawyers, CPAs, etc) who speak the languages and understand the culture of the target demographics
The spokes are (usually) smaller organizations that are more embedded in the communities that the hub is trying to communicate with. Spokes effectively extend the reach of the hub organization, help with communication issues, and deal with logistical barriers between the client and the hub organization. Duties of the spokes include:
- Outreach (phone calls, texts, e-mails, door-to-door canvassing)
- Document preparation
- Meeting participation goals for participation in programs within the targeted community.
- Finding and working with additional community partners like media, schools, churches, and local elected officials.
If the hub and spoke network is functioning effectively, it should be steadily sending qualified candidates that the spokes have scouted and assisted to the hub, ideally with completed applications and any necessary documents.
Will The Program Help My Small Business?
The SBA is currently allowing Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Women’s Business Centers, Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), SBA district offices, and state and local governments to utilize SBA funding to establish and run community navigator programs. The programs will likely take some time to develop and mature, making them more of a long-term strategy than an immediate relief program.
So do you stand to benefit from SBA’s Community Navigator program?
If you’re already successfully applying for SBA programs, there probably won’t be much here for you even if you are a woman-, minority-, or veteran-business owner, or one who operates in an economically disadvantaged area. The community navigator model’s goal is to get you to and through the gate fully armed with everything you need to be approved.
On the other hand, if you’ve regularly found yourself frustrated by bureaucratic, language, informational, or bookkeeping barriers when you’ve tried to access SBA programs, you’re the type of business customer that this program is intended to help. If all goes according to plan, the institutions that you normally interact with locally in your day-to-day life will double as resource links for your business activities.
The SBA’s Community Navigator Program looks like it could help many underserved businesses access programs in the future. That said, it’s more of a logistical reorganization than a direct program for businesses.
Looking for information about the SBA’s COVID-relief programs? Check out our guides on: