Urban Impact uses city BOLD funds to foster Birmingham’s small businesses
Anita Craig entertained thoughts of owning a business for years. But to make her dreams a reality, it took a series of jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, plus encouragement from a friend willing to join her on the entrepreneurial journey.
Their Trvl Love Koffee, now a year old, lays claim to being one of Alabama’s first Black-owned and operated companies in the business of roasting coffee. Trvl Love sells its ethically sourced coffee online and at events, and it plans to open a storefront in Woodlawn this spring.
Craig’s mission goes beyond providing a caffeine fix for her customers. Her goal is to sell a product she believes can bring everyone to the table to talk about the issues that divide us and the passions that inspire us. “Coffee can bond people just like football,” she said.
But business success, she knows, requires more than vision.
As Craig and her partner, Chauncey Moore, launched Trvl Love Koffee, they benefited from programs initiated by the city of Birmingham that are aimed at strengthening small businesses, expanding economic opportunity to city residents, and building a stronger ecosystem to support their success.
A city program called BOLD — Building Opportunities for Lasting Development — has invested more than $3 million over the past four years on these objectives, working through community organizations that have a proven track record of uplifting Birmingham’s people and places.
Urban Impact, a community development organization, is one of the entities receiving BOLD funds. It uses them to support neighborhood business districts as well as the entrepreneurs who are the backbone of the city’s economy.
Trvl Love Koffee is just one example of how businesses benefit from the program.
With Urban Impact’s help, Craig got a no-interest loan for equipment from the Birmingham Kiva Hub, and she participated in BE BHM (pronounced Be Birmingham), a Black business accelerator program that includes 12 weeks of classes, a year of follow-up, individual coaching, and access to a range of experts in areas like financial management and marketing.
“It helped me refine a lot of things,” Craig said of BE BHM. “It’s hard to know what direction you’re going in when you don’t have a clear message. It helped us with our elevator pitch, and it helped us to really grow our brand.”
As part of its work this year, Urban Impact will expand Kiva, BE BHM and other programs to help small businesses build capacity and get access to capital. It will also launch an entrepreneurship program at Birmingham City Schools and a new grant program for businesses to update and improve spaces in the Fourth Avenue Business/Civil Rights districts.
For Urban Impact, success means filling vacant storefronts, developing existing businesses, and getting startups on their feet.
Elijah Davis, program director at Urban Impact, said the programs were in high demand even before COVID-19. But the needs have multiplied since the pandemic, as some jobs went away and some people changed their thinking about work.
“With the great resignation, a lot of people are becoming more entrepreneurial,” Davis said, “and entrepreneurship is particularly continuing to climb in the Black community.”
Even established businesses felt the impact of the pandemic, often deferring renovations and other investments, and many need support to regain their footing and position themselves for growth in the future, Davis said.
In assessing the post-COVID needs of businesses, Davis said, Urban Impact found “60% … indicated that low-interest loans or building improvement grants would assist in their recovery.”
With funding through BOLD, Urban Impact can address some of these needs while continuing to nurture and develop some of Birmingham’s most notable business districts.
“The city’s partnership and investment will support existing programs and new initiatives for women and minority-owned businesses in the Historic Fourth Avenue District and Birmingham Civil Rights District, as well as the city of Birmingham,” Davis said.
For more information about these programs, visit www.urbanimpactbirmingham.org.