With the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses are struggling. In a matter of weeks, the social distancing measures enacted to stop the spread of the new coronavirus forced some businesses to lay off workers, while others have seen clients suddenly unable to pay.
Seemingly just as quickly, Maryland enacted new relief programs to get grants and loans to folks. The federal government soon followed suit with passage of the CARES Act. It includes the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which offers a loan for two months of payroll that could be forgivable.
Getting money into the hands of businesses quickly was the priority. But this, too, has created a new push for business owners to figure out whether they’re eligible, and if the terms of the programs make sense.
“Our companies are having trouble navigating, which program am I eligible for, which one is the best one for me and how can I apply,” said Marty Rosendale, CEO of the Maryland Tech Council (MTC). At the same time, the programs are getting overwhelmed given all the need, so getting a question answered on the phone can be an hours-long endeavor.
It led a group of tech and economic development leaders that include the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA), Mindgrub and the technology board of the Maryland Tech Council to create a new web-based tool that can help businesses determine which programs they should apply for, and keep up-to-date info on which programs are now accepting applications.
The Maryland Business Relief Wizard launched on Wednesday.
It’s a web tool where users can get a look at which programs are still accepting applications, which will change as announcements are made about funds running out (such as the Maryland Small Business COVID-19 Emergency Relief Loan and Grant Fund filling up this week) or gaining new resources (like if Congress passes more funding for the PPP).
The key action: Company heads answer a series of questions about specific details of their business. The wizard then recommends where their time would be best spent submitting an application. It then provides details about the application process, and links to resources.
The wizard is also collecting some info so that it can be shared with local economic development authorities and the state as they look at future policymaking.
“What if you go through all decision criteria and it spits out that you’re not eligible for anything?” said David Tohn, CEO of Columbia-based BTS Software Solutions and an MTC board member. “We believe that it would be super useful and interesting for the state to be identifying who is not eligible for anything and finding that hole in coverage.”
The tool came together in just a couple of weeks: HCEDA CEO Lawrence Twele talked about the need for such a solution for Howard County businesses with Tohn, and along with Maryland Innovation Center head Chuck Bubeck they realized that it could benefit businesses across Maryland. Tohn brought it members of the tech board of MTC, including Rosendale and Todd Marks, the CEO of Locust Point-based tech company Mindgrub. Marks, who chairs the MTC board, said he felt fortunate that his business remained in a good place, and wanted to give back.
“It’s breaking my heart hearing from all of these companies that they don’t know what to do but fire their entire staff,” Marks said. “Whatever we can do to help other Maryland businesses get some of that $350 billion of the Paycheck Protection Program, we need to help out as much as can.”
HCEDA staff set to aggregating the details of the different programs that were available. Then they passed the info to designers and developers from Mindgrub, which donated time for the project. They also tapped expertise from accounting firm Katz Abosch, law firm Offit Kurman and employee benefits firm Capital Services, and got support from the Maryland Department of Commerce and Howard County Chamber of Commerce. Alongside the work, the team members have been talking for about an hour each day. By Wednesday afternoon, the platform was launched.
Like many programs that are popping up to respond to the crisis, it came together quicker than such projects might in “normal times.” That’s because there’s a need.
“These things are generally first-come, first-serve, so time is key,” Marks said.