Diversity & Inclusion
Entrepreneurs / Municipal government

Project 500 is helping east-of-the-river businesses grow

Increasing access to capital is key for the District-backed program, which last year launched a new initiative focused on minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses.

Project 500 offers mentorship to entrepreneurs in underserved areas. (Courtesy photo)

Sitting on her sister’s front porch, Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden called her high school teacher Melissa Bradley, a cofounder of Sidecar Social Finance who worked on social impact in a series of roles in the Obama Administration.

“I wanted to get something up and running where we could support 500 businesses in local communities, so that they could sustain themselves once prosperity came into those communities,” said Deputy Mayor Snowden.

“And so we talked about it and we went to work to create a program.”

Project 500. It’s a partnership between the Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business – where Bradley teaches impact investing and social entrepreneurship– and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity where Snowden serves. Their goal: To recruit and retain up to 500 diverse, District-based businesses and connect them with capital.

The program is free of charge and is open to any D.C. based-business owner, with a preference to assist resident-owned businesses in Wards 7 and 8.

The first two cohorts had more than 80 entrepreneurs each who have taken part in the 12-to-14 week Emerging Business Program, according to the Project 500 Website. Business owners who attended have reported increases in profitability, access to capital and in hiring new employees.

“Project 500 has filled a void in the city for entrepreneurs East of the river and elsewhere who wish to grow their businesses and create jobs in the city,” Bradley said. “Currently, we have reached more than 450 entrepreneurs and provided them management training, as well as given them access to markets and money that have led to a majority improving their business presence and revenues.”

The next cohort starts in February 2018. Businesses with revenue under $250,000 annually can apply.

It’s part of a wider effort to help entrepreneurs grow where they are. Project 500 also has an accelerated eight-to-nine week program called Ascend 2020 DC which kicked off in May 2017, and is financially supported by JPMorgan Chase & Co. It’s part of a larger national initiative to support local minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses in East of the river neighborhoods.

JPMorgan has invested $500,000 in Ascend 2020 to help bridge the capital gap impacting these communities. The Washington Area Community Investment Fund and the Latino Economic Development Center have committed nearly $1 million dollars in financial capital to the initiative.

This year, the city budget also includes funding for a low cost micro-loan fund solely for the purpose of supporting Project 500 businesses in those communities.


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