Small Business Division: an Ecosystem of Resources for Local Businesses

Living in a boom town is a strange experience. Owning and operating a business in a boom town is a wild ride for sure. Owning and operating a business in a boom town during a global pandemic is a carnival ride like no other! Whether you are exploring opening a business as a career change or are looking to refresh an existing business’s plan, the City of Austin’s Small Business Division has a whole ecosystem of resources to support your efforts. The mission of the Small Business Division is to foster job creation and support the growth of new and existing businesses by providing capacity-building information, tools, and resources. They accomplish through business training, educational events, and coaching that empowers entrepreneurs. Some of their offerings are detailed here and full access is available here.

SizeUpAustin

Knowledge is power but data is king! SizeUpAustin is an incredible, no-cost, easy-to-use platform that allows you to access data to help your small business make better decisions around competitive bench marking, customers, suppliers, even marketing and advertising. Free data on the Austin market and on potential competitors? Sign me up! 

Small Business Preparedness

More important than ever, Small Business Preparedness is a resource site to aid and assist businesses in creating a plan for disaster recovery, including economic and natural disasters with information to meet the immediate needs of your business during your time of preparation and recovery.

Business Coaching

Ever wish there was someone you could talk to about big business decisions who would actually get it and be able to give you thoughtful, informed advice? Look no further! Individualized business coaching is available at no cost to existing small business owners and can help develop a marketing strategy, find lending assistance, learn to effectively network, or become more competitive with a business plan. This is an incredible resource – access it here.

BizAid℠ Business Orientation

This orientation offers a no-cost opportunity to talk to business professionals about basic business information and to receive guidance. Register online here.

 BizOpen Orientation: Commercial Property Requirements

The orientation covers the general development process including zoning, permitting, inspections, events and obtaining a certificate of occupancy and acts as the main point of contact for new and existing small business owners seeking assistance navigating the Planning and Zoning Department and the Development Services Department. Register online here.

Business Education

Knowledge is power and you to stay on top of things of your skills to keep your business moving in the right direction is paramount. Many classes are offered to help small business owners develop skills. Visit the calendar for a complete list of upcoming classes and events.

Business Skills Certification
Through a partnership with the University of Texas at Austin Center for Professional Education, SBD offers classes in marketing, social media, human resources, money management, and small business taxes. Complete six of these qualifying small business classes and earn a Business Skills Certificate.

Healthy Corner Store Program

Through a partnership with Austin Public Health, the Economic Development Department is expanding the Healthy Corner Stores Program. This program, which is free to join, helps store owners grow their business by increasing sales of healthy food items. 

Small Business Resources

This comprehensive directory of non-profit agencies, local, state, and federal governments is a great place to start when you’re looking for help in your specific industry or for a specific issue.

In addition to these amazing resources, you can also access information about funding, starting a business, or relocating your business. Do you have a need that you don’t see represented here? Drop us a line and we’ll get you connected with the people who have what you’re looking for.

Positive Small Business Saturday News for Small and Local Retailers

This past Saturday marked the 11th Annual Small Business Saturday hailed as one of the largest shopping days of the season. Results of the American Express 2020 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey show that there is great awareness of Small Business Saturday with 97% of shoppers understanding the positive impact they can make by shopping at small, local retailers. Additionally, 85% of these local fans report that they also encouraged friends and family to do follow their lead.

This awareness and positive impact are not limited to in-person shopping experiences; they also extend to online shopping. As the pandemic changed the retail landscape, one lasting change is that many small businesses pivoted to selling online or through social media platforms. Consumers seem to have appreciated the move with 56% of Small Business Saturday shoppers reporting they shopped online with a small business on the day, an increase from 43% the year before.

Campaigns to inspire consumers to recommend their favorite small and local businesses via social media work to amplify the impact shoppers can make. Results from the nationwide AMEX campaign have been encouraging, with more than half of respondents saying they supported a small business via social media either by recommending favorite or shopping at a newly discovered small business.

So, consumers know how important it is to shop local, know how valuable local businesses are to a vibrant local economy, and understand the importance of sharing their favs on social media. These are great strides in strengthening the amazing local economy we have here in Austin. We’ve still got our work cut out for us though – onward!

Family Business Loan Program from the Small Business Division

What is your dream for your business in the coming year? Are you looking to finally buy a piece of commercial property? Renovate or build a new building? Finally buy or install the machinery or equipment that will allow for growth? Refinance some existing? Secure working capital financing as part of one of these activities? The Family Business Loan Program from the Small Business Division may be the answer you’ve been looking for…

This loan program, one of many programs the City of Austin Small Business Division has to support small and local businesses in the Austin area, offers low interest loans to qualified small businesses to support their growth and ability to create jobs. While the name implies that only family owned businesses are eligible, it is actually open to many small and local businesses in Austin (see eligibility requirements below).

The Family Business Loan Program is unique in that it is a public-private partnership between the City of Austin, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and several private lenders. With the hefty mission to “enable existing local businesses to expand and create jobs, revitalize communities, increase the tax base of the City of Austin, and enhance the overall quality of life for Austin residents”, the program offers low-interest loans to qualified small businesses. These loans have significantly lower than market interest rates, flexible repayment terms that are project specific, and feature low equity requirements (only 10%) which is a barrier associated with conventional financing.

Small and local businesses often do not have access to the advantageous financing and other privileges and benefits available to large or multinational companies. Programs like the Family Business Loan program exist to make sure growth and job creation happen at all levels of business.

Eligible businesses that are those who are privately owned and for-profit, legally organized, have been operating for at least two years, and who meet the size standards of the SBA. You also must demonstrate the ability to meet repayment terms, be located within an Austin City Council district and commit to creating at least one full time equivalent job for every $35,000 borrowed.

For more information, call 512-978-2502 to set an appointment and discuss your project with a Loan Program Advisor.

BizAid Orientation and Coaching Services from the Small Business Division

The City of Austin Small Business Division has many amazing programs to support small and local businesses as they start, grow and re-imagine themselves in Austin’s ever changing business landscape. Two of these programs are the BizAid Business Orientation and the Coaching Services Program. Both programs are beneficial to prospective and current small business owners. Whether you’ve been in business for 20 weeks or 20 years, the knowledge of city services, business plan development and goal reviews offered here are invaluable.

The BizAid Orientation is a group program next offered on December 2nd. This no-cost class provides a topical overview of either opening a new small business or re-evaluating an existing business as it grows and changes course. This later scenario is, of course, particularly relevant as we learn to live within the confines of the current global pandemic. Business owners will learn key questions to consider when developing your business and discover the resources needed to reach the next level.

In addition to this amazing class, the Small Business Division also offers confidential, no-cost, one on one coaching services. Businesses can access business plan review and development assistance, marketing plan review and business management technical assistance along with a financial readiness assessment. All provided by our amazing city!

Details and registration for the next BizAid Business Orientation on December 2nd are available here and coaching services can be accessed by contacting smallbiz@austintexas.gov. Both services are available for for-profit business located within the Austin city limits. For non-profit businesses or those located outside Austin city limits, coaching is limited to 6 hours.

Austin Public Health Moves to Stage 3 of Risk-Based Guidelines

Austin-Travis County Health Authority today announced that Austin and Travis County are moving into Stage 3 of the Risk-Based Guidelines. This news, less than two weeks after our move to Stage 4, comes as hospitalization numbers continue to improve across the Travis County area.

The decision to move to Stage 3 of the Risk-Based Guidelines is informed by officials monitoring several key indicators collected during the Delta variant surge, roughly between July and September, and include the seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions, the positivity rate, the “doubling time of new cases”, and the number of ICU and ventilator patients.  It is important to note that the data continues to show that almost all cases, hospitalizations, and deaths occur among those who are not fully vaccinated.

As it relates to business operations in Austin, Stage 3 recommendations include the following: 

  • Fully vaccinated individuals can participate in outdoor private gatherings and dine and shop without masking if allowed by the business. They can also participate in indoor private gatherings and travel with masking. Fully vaccinated high risk individuals should wear a mask when dining indoors. 
  • Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals, can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings, dine, shop, and travel with masking. High risk individuals should avoid these activities if they are non-essential.

As a reminder, these Risk-Based Guidelines describe five distinct stages of risk for Austin and Travis County and DO NOT signal changes to local rules or regulations for businesses. As always, these are “guidelines and recommendations for individual actions and behaviors based on levels of risk of exposure in the community.” APH is sure to remind the public that “everyone should continue to follow any additional requirements put in place by local businesses, venues, and schools regardless of their vaccination status or stage.”

The City is still maintaining www.ATXrecovers.com For additional business guidance and recommendations to help prioritize the well-being of employees and customers.

Austin Public Health Moves to Stage 4 of Risk-Based Guidelines

Austin-Travis County Health Authority announced today that Austin Public Health (APH) is moving into Stage 4 of the Risk-Based Guidelines. We are still seeing high numbers of people in who require care in intensive care units (ICUs)  but the seven-day moving averages of new COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions and positivity rates are continuing to drop in the Austin area. The Health Authority has said that the credit for this good news goes to the “power of people working together”.

As it relates to business operations in Austin, Stage 4 recommendations include the following: 

•            Fully vaccinated individuals should wear a mask when participating in indoor gatherings, traveling, and dining or shopping, and should wear a mask for outdoor gatherings, if they are unable to socially distance.

•            Partially or unvaccinated individuals should avoid gatherings, travel, dining, and shopping unless essential. Wear a mask when conducting essential activities.

As a reminder, these Risk-Based Guidelines describe five distinct stages of risk for Austin and Travis County and DO NOT signal changes to local rules or regulations for businesses. As always, these are “guidelines and recommendations for individual actions and behaviors based on levels of risk of exposure in the community.” APH was sure to remind the public that “everyone should continue to follow any additional requirements put in place by local businesses, venues, and schools regardless of their vaccination status or stage.”

The City is still maintaining www.ATXrecovers.com For additional business guidance and recommendations to help prioritize the well-being of employees and customers.

Funding Resources for Small Business

Texas is known as a favorable climate for business based in part on our comparatively low tax burden (we know from surveys that it definitely does not feel low to most of you) and favorable regulatory environment. Surprisingly, costs for some of the basics business needs like real estate, energy, wages, and taxes are lower in Texas than in the rest of the country. In 2018, these costs were 2% below the national average! Austin has more than 54,000 businesses with less than 100 employees, as recorded in the 2019 census. This impressive count may be due in part to the amazing resources available to local businesses in Austin. As every business owner knows, funding is one of the most important pieces of a solid business plan. Except for the independently wealthy among us, we all need funding to start a new business or to grow an existing one. Below is a brief outline of some of the funding resources available to Austin businesses.

ACCION Texas is a financial support system for small businesses that advances racial, gender, and economic justice for all.  They are a nonprofit organization that provides credit to small businesses with at least 12 months in business, $50,000 or more in annual sales, owner of at least 20% of the business, owner at least 18 years or older.

Bank loans are obvious place to look for funding for a new business is to your bank. Some small local banks are more willing to work with new business owners and have non-traditional programs. Even with some banks working hard to support small business, it can still be very hard to qualify for bank loans.

BCL of Texas supports Texans to acquire wealth-building assets, such as home ownership and entrepreneurship, with the financial tools and education necessary to build personal net worth. They are a U.S. Treasury Certified Development Financial Institution (CDFI), a U.S. Small Business Administration Certified Development Corporation (CDC), and a HUD-certified housing counseling agency. They offer loans of $5,000 to $50,000 for small businesses.

Business Investment Growth, BiGAUSTIN is certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). They operate as a nonprofit providing training and loans to small businesses, especially minority- and women-owned businesses, in Central Texas. They lend up to $15,000 to start-ups and up to $50,000 for established businesses and have 1 – 6 year payback terms.

Capital CDC is a private, non-profit provider of small business financing throughout Texas, New Mexico, and Arkansas offering SBA 504 loans for fixed assets such as land or buildings. Additionally, they offer a Community Advantage Loan Program as a companion loan to assist small businesses in “under served” markets with the financing of working capital.

Family Business Loan Program is a public-private partnership between the City of Austin, HUD, and participating private lenders to offer low-interest loans to qualified small businesses that are expanding and creating jobs. They offer low interest rates, flexible repayment terms, and low equity requirements.

LiftFund provides credit and services to small businesses and entrepreneurs who do not have access to loans from commercial sources through direct capital including SBA microloans, SBA Community Advantage, SBA 504 Loans, EDA Loans in a 14-state footprint.

PeopleFund is a nonprofit organization, a U.S. Treasury certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and a SBA certified lender. Lends up to $250,000 to Texas businesses that do not qualify for bank loans and provide complimentary client business assistance and education.

Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) are privately owned and managed investment firms that use their own capital, plus funds borrowed at favorable rates with an SBA guarantee, to make venture capital investments in small businesses. They are licensed and regulated by the SBA.

Texas Venture Capital and Private Equity Directory provides investment firm profiles and financing frequently updated. This directory serves local entrepreneurs looking to raise capital, investors who wish to network with other investors and service providers who need a directory of investment firms.

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) operates a number of programs designed to assist small businesses access financing from lending institutions. You must go through the normal application process for an SBA loan. As a large government funding operation, they have many resources to offer.

Veteran Business Initiative is a public private partnership between the City of Austin in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which offers a low-interest rate loan and low borrower equity requirements to help create or expand a business. They offer low interest rates, flexible repayment terms, and low equity requirements.

Austin Enters Stage 4 COVID-19

Austin and Travis County have entered stage 4 of the Austin Public Health risk guidelines as Covid-19 case numbers and hospitalizations continue their recent rapid increase. This move comes just on the heels of the move to stage 3 a week ago. Officials are asking everyone to wear masks indoors, even if they’re partially or fully vaccinated.

These stage 4 guidelines include asking vaccinated residents to wear masks at private indoor gatherings and at outdoor gatherings if social distancing is not possible and masking while traveling, dining and shopping. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated residents should avoid private indoor and outdoor gatherings, and travel, dine and shop only if it is essential (with masks).

Advice for protecting your employees and your customers can be found here from the City of Austin’s Covid-19 Economic Recovery site: https://www.austintexas.gov/economicrecovery.

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IndieAustin: Freestyle Language

Freestyle Languages, founded by former French instructor Elizabeth Mack, has a mission to connect people through language. Being an incurable Francophile has its challenges in the middle of Texas, but as a UT alum she insists: everything is possible in Austin! However, the dynamics driving the Freestyle mission go well beyond France. Elizabeth considers the most extraordinary example of the potential for human connection and social change through language learning to be the one set by Nelson Mandela: he had learned Afrikaans during his 27-year imprisonment to successfully negotiate an end to Apartheid.  “Speak to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head… speak to him in his own language, it goes to his heart,” said Mandela. Happily, Elizabeth reminds us, the human brain is designed specifically for language (yes, at any age!) and for connection. 

At Texas State University, Elizabeth had grown increasingly disenchanted with the academic model, and before long she found herself ‘in trouble’ for using her own strategies over the mandated curriculum. Digging deeper, she discovered that language learning science is solid, yet nobody seems to use it. Armed with little more than a love for learning languages—no curriculum, instructors or financial backing—she left her position to start Freestyle in 2012.  

During the span of eight years, Freestyle developed a methodology, curriculum and team while enjoying a growing community of adult Spanish, French and Italian learners. Success stories multiplied as learners enjoyed the stress-free and science-backed model: in the end, it’s all about having fun! (Bilingual wine tasting, anybody?) They had a good thing going. Then, COVID-19. 

It is said that success can be found at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. While it’s hard to love any opportunity associated with this pandemic, here it was. In 2017, Freestyle had started working on an online model, ready to reach the world. With learning outcomes as a ‘North Star’, the team worked for two years on just one course to get it right, insisting on only using what results in success. For language learning online, it’s all about the ‘flipped’ model (recorded video in conjunction with live face-to-face virtual interaction.) Success and fun are not mutually exclusive online!  With synchronous and asynchronous options, Freestyle now loves being 100% online. The pandemic has spared few small businesses, but despite the challenges, having learners and instructors across the country and globe, in both a B2C and now a thriving B2B program, is a potential dream (out of a nightmare?)  

Freestyle’s corporate ‘Language at Work’ program offers specialized language training ranging from fields such as construction (now with ESL for Spanish speakers) to UX design, as more firms incorporate a language strategy for the many competitive and team benefits. This program is very useful and really speaks to the spirit of Austin! Yes, beloved Austin… Freestyle considers itself a devout Austin local! Developing meaningful partnerships with local organizations who share a global vision (Whole Planet Foundation, Well Aware, Austin Vida, and Austin Opera to name a few) multiplies our ability to connect through language and enhance our cultural capital. Find more information about Freestyle Languages here or call them at 888-982-HOLA. C’est magnifique! #GoLocal #ThinkGlobal #WineTheGreatFluencyBuilder 

Austin Moves to Stage 3 Covid-19 Risk Level

On Thursday, July 15th, Austin city officials moved from Stage 2 to Stage 3 covid-19 risk based guidelines due to a rise in new cases, which doubled, and hospitalizations, which neared 20, in the preceding days. This move reflects the City’s stated goals to follow science and data to guide risk level decisions. No new recommendations for businesses were included in the announcement of this move. As a reminder, stage 3 recommendations include the following:  fully vaccinated individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings and dine and shop without masking (if allowed by the business) and can travel with masking; partially vaccinated or unvaccinated low-risk individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings, dine, shop, and travel with masking; and partially vaccinated or unvaccinated high-risk individuals should avoid non-essential indoor and outdoor private gatherings, dining, shopping, and travel. 

The guidelines are careful to note that “everyone should continue to follow any additional requirements of local businesses, venues, and schools regardless of vaccination status or stage,” which reinforces a business owner’s right to require masks if they choose. Reasons to continue to require masks include a desire to protect customers and employees who may not be eligible for vaccination and to help prevent the spread of the disease to children who do not yet have the ability to receive a Covid-10 vaccine. We published an editable flyer for business owners to use should they decide to continue to require masks. Request a copy here.

Questions about how to modify your operations? Issues with implementing or eliminating mask requirements with employees or customers? Ideas for best practices that you’d like to share? We are here for all of it – reach out at hello@ibuyaustin.com.