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Small Business

Program to Help Businesses in Disadvantaged Areas Launched by Regions, BBA, Others

Regions North Central Alabama Area President Leroy Abrahams and Myla Calhoun of the Birmingham Business Alliance discuss the nonprofit ICCC program before area business and civic leaders at the Regions Center on March 18, 2014. Courtesy Regions Bank

Four Birmingham stakeholders are partnering to bring business education and access to lending to businesses in economically disadvantaged areas.

Inner City Capital Connections, a portion of a national nonprofit in Massachusetts, has partnered with Regions Bank, the Birmingham Business Alliance, Protective Life and Alabama Power to launch the program in Birmingham.

The program will take businesses either in economically distressed areas or where a significant portion of staff work in economically distressed areas and mentor them, culminating in a conference at Regions Field Aug. 6.

“When people get into businesses they often have expertise in one area, but not in all the areas. Folks are good at the sales or the operations, but they may not be as good at the financial piece,” said Leroy Abrahams, North Central Alabama president of Regions Bank, who is spearheading ICCC for Regions. “Those are all the kinds of things that are discussed at this event.”

Various lenders and capital providers will be present at the event participating in workshops or advisers.

Leroy Abrahams Photo by Todd Hornsby

“By the end of the day, they hopefully get a broad sense of, here are all the various ways you may be able to access capital to help your business grow, or here’s something you maybe need to work on in order to access capital,” Abrahams said.

The businesses participate at no cost to them, but they have to apply. To be eligible, businesses have to be independent for-profit corporations. ICCC suggests companies should have revenues of $2 million or more in 2014, but several have been selected with smaller revenues than that. Companies have until June 3 to apply and can do so by clicking here.

Regions worked with ICCC in Memphis last year about 175 people attended the conference, and spokesman Jeremy King said he expects around the same number to attend this year. Companies across the state should apply, King said.

Before the conference, the participants will be mentored via webinars or one on one coaching.

The two biggest problems small business owners face are a lack of access to capital or they don’t grow themselves in sustainable ways, said ICCC Director Hyacinth Vassell. ICCC aims to fix those problems.

“They need to revisit their strategy, their growth plan, and they classes really help them to understand what they need to do,” Vassell said. “Just because when you started your sister was your accountant, now at $2 million (in revenues), maybe that’s not really the right person at that time. Those are the kinds of things we talk about as they’re growing.”

ICCC has operated in nine cities so far; after this year, it will have worked in 12.

“The difference is how the pieces that we focus on in the classes, because if we have, for instance in Birmingham, a lot of companies are steel or microbreweries or something like that we customize the classes for teaching what’s in the room,” Vassell said.

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