Hoping to spur a post-pandemic recovery, companies from Comcast to the makerspace chain NextFab are seeking small-business owners to apply for grant money and accelerator programs in the Philadelphia area.

Comcast on Tuesday said it will open applications March 1 through March 14 for $10,000 small business grants in Philadelphia and Chester. The grants are part of the Comcast RISE Investment Fund, which is giving $5 million to Black, Indigenous, and people of color-owned small businesses in five cities nationwide, including $1 million in Philadelphia and Chester.

Eligible businesses can apply for the $10,000 grant at ComcastRISE.com. Grants are available to small businesses operating for at least three years and employing up to 25 people.

Comcast will award a total of 100 grants in Philadelphia and Chester, and 500 grants nationally, in May.

The need for small business aid is acute: Between February and April 2020, the number of active Black-owned businesses declined by 41% nationally, Latino-owned businesses fell 32%, and Asian-owned businesses dropped by 25%, vs. just 21% for the general population, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Even before the pandemic, there were huge racial disparities in business ownership in Philadelphia, with far fewer businesses owned by people of color, according to research from Pew Charitable Trusts and the Center City District.

An estimated 30% of small businesses located on Philly’s commercial corridors may close permanently, according to a recent survey by the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations and TD Bank.

The RISE Investment Fund is an extension of Comcast RISE, the cable giant’s initiative launched in October that initially was open only to Black-owned small businesses. The grant money is now open to Black, Indigenous, and people of color-owned businesses hurt by COVID-19.

Comcast already awarded advertising, marketing consulting, and technology “makeovers” to local business owners such as Madi Still, owner of Be Still Nutrition, in Hatfield, Pa.; Lois Arnold, owner of Hairs 2 U Wig Bank, in Philadelphia, a nonprofit serving uninsured and underinsured women and children going through illnesses that cause hair loss or baldness; cardiologist Sanul Corrielus of Corrielus Cardiology in Philadelphia; Damian Smith of marketing firm Smith Enterprises LLC, Mount Laurel, N.J.; and Andrew Allen, owner of New Life Staffing LLC, Pottstown, Pa.

NextFab Accelerator

Founded by Evan Malone in 2009, NextFab provides 3D printers and other digitally controlled cutting, shaping, and reproduction tools to small-scale local manufacturers in Philadelphia.

NextFab this month will launch an eight-week accelerator program for entrepreneurs, in particular, artisans who need tools, support, and structure to build viable businesses.

“Initially, we planned to make this program available only to existing members of NextFab, but we decided to open it up to the public, so that we can support even more artisans in these difficult times,” said Todor Raykov, who runs the accelerator programs and venture initiatives at NextFab.

The program’s sessions are virtual and provided at no cost. In addition to business workshops, NextFab will make introductions to advisers and successful entrepreneurs, and artisans receive free access to all three NextFab locations — in North and South Philadelphia and Wilmington — for the eight-week period.

“The only requirement is that the artisan applicants are already in business and generating between $100 and $5,000 in sales per month,” he said.

The 2021 Artisan Accelerator program runs from March 24 to May 21, and will be held virtually. For the cohort this year, NextFab provides artisan winners with three months of membership at the Ultimate level ($299/month, or $897 per person), and machine time.

“We are accepting applications until February 21 and we’ll select between six and eight entrepreneurs for the program,” he said.

Candidates from the Philadelphia and Wilmington regions, who are selling custom, handmade, and unique goods, can apply for the accelerator until Feb. 21 online at: https://nextfab.com/grow/artisan-accelerator.

Following a pilot artisan accelerator program in Wilmington last spring, Todor expanded to Philadelphia this year.

The virtual format of the sessions, he said, makes it possible for entrepreneurs to take advantage of the training, hone marketing strategies, and increase online sales.

“The NextFab program is good for people doing a craft and thinking about stepping it up, or who have been selling for a while. I had done one other accelerator, through the University of the Arts, which was similar,” said Kensington-based Machele Nettles, 39, founder of Idol Light jewelry, who took part in the NextFab pilot accelerator.

“I learned from critiques from other artisans. The most helpful things were understanding how to sell, and the value of my brand from buyers, and using that in marketing.” She sells in retail locations at Ritual Shoppe on Walnut Street, and online at idol-light.com.