IE Women’s Business Center Helps Small Business Survive
By Dianne Anderson
In a perfect world with her perfect five-star customer ratings, Deanna Margarith’s video arcade should have had standing room only. Her virtual reality family center was drawing the little kids, the bigger kids and adults all to the same space for high-quality fun and games.
Margarith, a local Black business owner, was set up and raring to go on her 10,000 square foot business in Chino after finally navigating permitting requirements to launch in October 2019. She was cruising along and building clientele.
And then came March of 2020, the start of the pandemic.
Just five months into her business, she had to close doors for nearly one full year. She was devastated. Worse, during that year, her rent continued to accumulate, pushing $160,000. Luckily, she said her landlord has been patient.
She also received some PPP funding, which was greatly appreciated.
“Every little bit helped me survive, but it was a drop in the bucket of a huge tsunami that I’m still trying to repay,” she said. “Whenever I have an opportunity to speak to someone who has a voice, whether a senator or congressman, I share my story.”
Other small and commercial businesses are going through the same thing, but she is still standing, thanks to the great support from the Chino Valley Chamber of Commerce and the small business community.
People stepped up in a big way, as she, like others, continue through the hard times by lifting each other up and staying tenacious. The Inland Empire Women’s Business Center also gave her hope and got her situated as one of the counselors there. She now helps others survive through the struggle.
“It’s knowing within your heart that you are not giving up,” she said. “We were all floundering and wondering how we stuck together – let’s collaborate, let’s pivot. I heard about this grant, did you hear about that grant?”
At the Inland Empire Women’s Business Center, Michelle Skiljan said that over half of the clients they serve are women of color. This year, there are additional programs coming up to support small business owners across the spectrum.
“For those individuals who have that burning desire to open a business, we’re here for those who are in business and need our help. We have our team in place for those that need to pivot their business,” said Skiljan, IEWBC executive director.
Now in the works, new grant money is coming down to counties. She encourages all business owners to check with their county economic development to see what’s available.
The California State Association of Counties reports that some counties are preparing to disperse grants for businesses hit by COVID-19 through the California Microbusiness COVID-19 Relief Grant Program (MBCRG).
Small business owners can also stay on top of their county website to check local grant offerings. She suggests business owners connect with their city and county economic development departments as some funds may be available in the community.
“Get on the newsletter lists, that’s the communication piece today. We’re trying to get info out as expeditiously as possible, so you’re getting it timely and you’re not trying to apply at the last minute,” she said.
Staying on top of the money is as easy as reviewing their newsletters, which they send out twice a month. Small businesses can learn what’s going on with their programs as well as other business-focused events in the community.
Services continue to be remote, but webinars are easy to access. The center also hosts funding round tables periodically where participants can ask questions.
“You can meet one on one with the business council and talk through your situation, [that] here’s where I’m at, here’s where I want to go. Can you help me outline the steps to get there,” she said.
Between WBC counselors, along with IE Small Business Development Center, she said resources and expertise are available to the community. Soon, she said they will host “It’s Your Time” entrepreneurial training, a cohort program for startups.
IEWBC works with 1,500 clients per year, providing resources, training and counseling.
“If you’re an existing biz owner and you want to write that business plan, you’d love to connect with other women that program that program is ideal because it is a cohort,” she said.
When it comes to COVID and businesses being able to continue through the hard times, she said that being able to pivot and go after sustainable resources is the key.
“We’re seeing some clients that once they got situated over the shock of COVID shutdown, sat down and thought it through, they have been able to take their businesses to great heights with adaptation.”
Check out upcoming small business workshops, https://www.iewbc.org/