While COVID-19 exacerbated existing gaps in economic growth, it also gave way to an unexpected surge in entrepreneurship. In 2021, Americans filed 5.4 million applications for new businesses, ending a 15-year stagnation in American small business creation. Additionally, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, nearly 80% of small businesses have either fully or partially reopened since the start of the pandemic. While small businesses continue to grow and recover, concerns of a looming recession signaled by high inflation, rising interest rates, and shrinking savings will require small business owners to continue finding pathways to resilience. Truist Foundation and MIT Solve are excited to announce the second year of the Truist Foundation Inspire Awards. Last year, the inaugural Inspire Awards were launched in response to the unprecedented challenges imposed by COVID-19 on small businesses in the United States, especially for entrepreneurs from undercapitalized communities. This year’s Inspire Awards challenge will look to innovative, technology-based solutions as a proven pathway to resiliency and sustainability for small businesses.
Technology solutions were crucial to small business survival during the pandemic and resulted in concrete gains in growth, sales and profits. Women- and minority-owned companies that leveraged technology experienced 57% and 59% more growth, respectively, than those who were low-adopters of tech-based solutions. Technology solutions enable businesses to reach new customers, adapt during economic disruptions, achieve greater operational efficiency, and facilitate partnerships that strengthen the small business community. With continuing economic uncertainty, one thing is certain: Technology is and will continue to be crucial to small business success.
Like the small businesses they serve, nonprofit organizations have also found new ways to deliver services to their beneficiaries through times of economic instability. Nonprofits, unlike government entities and institutions, are able to work more closely with their target communities to quickly meet their needs. Truist Foundation recognizes and celebrates the resiliency and entrepreneurial mindset of both small business owners and the nonprofit organizations that support them. Through innovative and forward-thinking solutions that fill gaps in the current small business ecosystem, we believe that nonprofits have the power to transform how small businesses operate and succeed in the United States. To that end, Truist Foundation is focused on solutions that are taking it one step further, beyond training and network events. This challenge is seeking nonprofit organizations with innovative, tech-enabled solutions that address challenges faced by small business owners, including:
Financial readiness- Developing new or improved methods, or tools, that assist in financial preparation for loan acquisition, including understanding and assessing credit and assets, loan to debt ratio, cost of growth and information on alternative/non-traditional funding sources.
Business development & procurement- Connecting small business owners to vendors, suppliers, and networks that will transform their ability to do business.
Support scaling- Supporting long term business plan and succession through mergers and acquisitions, generational/equitable wealth, hiring pipeline, legal advising, and back-office support.
Internal financial health- Introducing innovative solutions that decrease the burden on small businesses owners to keep healthy and accurate financial records.
Employee advancement- Supporting employee career pathways through upskilling and reskilling employees, managing employee human resources, and mid-management or mid-career advancement.
Data and impact- Capturing, synthesizing, optimizing, and/or displaying data for business intelligence, impact evaluation, and/or improved decision making for resource allocation.
Please note that the most successful applications should directly address one or more of the Challenge Dimensions listed above.
Truist Foundation wants to fund innovative and transformative solutions creating and/or leveraging technology that changes the game for small businesses in the United States. To that end, solutions to this challenge must include a technology component to be eligible. Technologies can include but are not limited to platforms, apps, software, management tools, financial programs, etc. Truist Foundation recognizes that traditional philanthropy is often risk-averse and can be a barrier to innovation, especially for early stage solutions. For this reason, the challenge will consider funding tech-enabled solutions in both early and growth stages. Early-stage solutions must demonstrate a clear, realistic, practical, and feasible plan for implementation and scale in the given context.
Early-stage solutions include:
- Prototype: A solution that is building and testing its product, service, or business model.
- Pilot: A solution that is deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community.
Growth-stage solutions include:
- Growth: A solution with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth in multiple communities.
- Scale: A solution that is working in several communities. It is looking to scale significantly, focusing on increased efficiency.