Supporting Houston entrepreneurs during COVID-19

It’s amazing to see our entrepreneurs pivot, they have a great spirit!

We talk to Ashley Shepherd, Senior Manager of the Small Business program at BakerRipley, about supporting local entrepreneurs in this new normal.

How is the BakerRipley small business team adjusting these days?

We’re currently offering virtual assistance for our clients. It has been beneficial because we get to spend more time with our clients. However, there’s value in that face to face interactions, that’s how we’ve built trust with our clients and why they’re sticking with us now.

After some of the restrictions for the Stay Home order lifted, the coaches are now starting to go out and visit with safety measures in place.

Our coaches also created industry-specific groups where entrepreneurs share the issues arising from COVID-19.  By sharing their experience, they’re helping each other out. It’s amazing to see them pivot, they have a great spirit!

The BakerRipley Small Business team.

How are you helping entrepreneurs navigate the small business ecosystem?

When it comes to navigating the small business ecosystem, it’s tough to do on your own. Our team had to figure out the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan process first and then inform our clients.

A lot of them didn’t even know what was out there, so we educated them on how to apply for loan forgiveness for example. We’re just making sure they have access to the resources all other Houstonians have.

That’s why our program is important, we’re making sure they are included in the conversations and advocating for them – that’s the reason why we started this in the first place.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has been very helpful in getting the information out and hosting webinars explaining PPP, EIDL, etc.

Having that partnership with them has been critical to making sure the entrepreneurs we are serving are getting the right information.

Are you making changes to the curriculum or services?  

We’re adding a new section to our curriculum that focuses on disasters; how to prepare your business and how to respond. We work on things like having your finances in order and how to pivot your business to continue generating revenue.

Another thing we’re considering is advocacy education and training, we want to help entrepreneurs of color learn about what advocacy for businesses looks like and how policy decision can affect their business. We want them to know who their local community leaders and elected officials are and how to engage with them.

We also piloted a restaurant webinar series with Hope Clinic in April to help restaurant owners think through pivoting their business to maintain their restaurant.

In one-on-one coaching, everything we are working on with our clients is how can they stay in business, what opportunities are there, and being realistic with the challenges. We have a great support network of partners too, so leaning on them for advice and expertise is important.

What are some of the biggest challenges right now?

I talked to some of our banking partners and they are swamped with PPP loans. Unfortunately, a lot of business owners don’t have the finances ready to go for a loan. Access to funding is always an issue, but when disaster strikes it has an even bigger impact – because finances are the one thing that needs to be in order, but that’s not always the case with many of the entrepreneurs we serve.

In addition, a lot of our restaurants are struggling. We’re helping some of our entrepreneurs with access to the commercial kitchen in the BakerRipley East Aldine Campus so that they are able to cut costs while producing and delivering their food.

Ashley Shepherd, Senior Manager of the Small Business program at BakerRipley.

What’s different about this program?

Our team is mobile; the bulk of our program staff are going to businesses and helping neighbors grow their businesses in their own space. That’s one of our differentiators, we go out and meet you at your location where it’s most convenient for you. Some of our clients are working full-time jobs, have a family and it’s challenging to drive to a business center for help.

Most importantly, we are fully bilingual. All our services are in English and Spanish, which is a great advantage for us when serving Houston.

Why should Houstonians support small business?

Luckily, Houston has strong elected officials who are listening and responding. But this is going to be a long road ahead of us as we all adjust to a new normal.

The mom and pop businesses we work with are generally left out of relief programs, the federal government is not thinking about them, they’re thinking of big businesses.

It’s important to support these businesses when you do, those dollars are going directly to help a family, versus buying from a big chain store. It’s stimulating the economy and Houston in general.