Case Study: City of Milpitas Small Business Assistance Grant Program
FORWARD Impact in Milpitas, CA
- Distributed $1,498,800 in ARPA funding to 343 small businesses in the City of Milpitas
- Most Milpitas businesses were awarded a grant amount of $5,000
The City of Milpitas in Silicon Valley is rated one of the best places to live in California, with a newly erected Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station, high-quality manufacturing and research centers, and growing investments in mixed-use development.
To continue its strong recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City actively invested in economic recovery efforts to support the local businesses that contribute to the City’s diverse economy. The City is home to approximately 4,000 brick-and-mortar small businesses and a significant number of home-based businesses, many of which are owned by immigrants and minorities. Especially for those with barriers to accessing capital, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in extensive economic losses and instability. The City was committed to helping get financial support to these small businesses and, in 2021, the City Council approved a $1.5 million investment in small and micro-enterprise businesses.
In early 2022, the City hired FORWARD, a Seattle-based software company with extensive experience managing large-scale assistance programs through the FORWARD platform, to administer the $1.5 million Small Business Assistance Grant Program through a competitive public bid process. With comprehensive administrative support from FORWARD, the City made specific and conscious efforts to equitably reach small businesses owned by the most vulnerable populations and comply with federal ARPA requirements.
What were the challenges?
- Many small and micro-enterprise businesses do not have the staffing or resources to stay up to date with the most current grant programs and often miss funding opportunities.
- Many immigrant and minority-owned businesses have difficulty completing small business grant program applications due to language barriers and difficulty gathering all the necessary documentation.
- Distributing $1.5 million to small businesses is a huge feat, and the City needed additional support to determine eligibility, process applications, and distribute funding promptly.
- The City of Milpitas must also comply with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s ARPA rules and regulations.
What were the solutions that FORWARD helped the City implement?
- Developed partnerships with the local Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce and Milpitas Chamber of Commerce to maximize outreach to eligible small businesses
- Facilitated in-person and online training events to help small businesses complete the application process, whether that is through a paper application or the FORWARD portal
- Support Team provided phone, secure chat, and email support to applicants in English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and other languages.
- Conducted additional research to ensure that home-based childcare businesses, which were initially underrepresented in the applicant pool, had an equitable opportunity to receive funding
- Provided comprehensive reporting to ensure the City of Milpitas adhered to all rules, regulations, and guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury for the administration of ARPA funds.
“The City of Milpitas has been a tremendous help in keeping our hair styling business profitable during the Covid-19 pandemic. We have received a $5,000 grant this year that allowed us to cover our operating costs and meet our rent obligations. The business has been slow, and for several months last year, we were completely shut down due to the County health mandates. The City of Milpitas has helped us greatly by providing funds to help pay rent and salary so we can remain in business. We are truly grateful for this assistance.”
— Thomas Daters, Owner of Fantasy Hair
FORWARD provided a dedicated program management team that worked closely with the City of Milpitas to design, finalize, and implement the end-to-end grant program experience to ensure that small business owners are served equitably and that the City stays in compliance with the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Meet the Team
City of Milpitas
Alex Andrade, Economic Development Director
Eddie Truong, Economic Development Specialist
FORWARD Program Management Team for Milpitas
Tim Morones, VP of Operations
Raven McShane, Director of Strategic Partnerships
Alex Morrison, Research Analyst
FORWARD Support Team – Technical and application support to applicants
FORWARD Intake Team – Eligibility check and application processing
FORWARD Accounting Team – Fund distribution
The FORWARD Solution
Facilitating extensive outreach to reach diverse communities
The Milpitas Small Business Assistance Program was launched through the FORWARD Platform in January 2022. To reach as many businesses as possible, FORWARD worked with the City of Milpitas to create multiple touchpoints for businesses to learn about the grant program and receive application support.
Here are the various strategies FORWARD employed to reach out to Milpitas small businesses:
- We developed a partnership with the local Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce and Milpitas Chamber of Commerce to perform outreach to businesses. The Chambers promoted the program to their extensive business membership lists and helped determine eligibility.
- At the beginning of the program, FORWARD Research Analyst, Alex Morrison, hosted an in-person training at Milpitas City Hall for small business owners. Business owners who had limited computer literacy had the option to complete a paper application. The training was widely promoted, and around 20 business owners received in-person application support.
- Videos on how to apply through the FORWARD portal were available on the Milpitas Small Business Assistance Program landing page to help applicants with the application process.
- The FORWARD Support Team was available to support applicants through phone, secure chat, and email. This team consisted of in-house specialists trained in the Milpitas Small Business Assistance Program application process. Technical and application support was provided in English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and other languages.
- The Milpitas FORWARD application portal was available in 68 languages to support business owners who needed language support.
Milpitas Small Business Assistance Grant Program Application Portal hosted on FORWARD
Email blast from the City of Milpitas about the Milpitas Small Business Assistance Grant Program
Championing equitable access to funding for the most vulnerable small businesses.
Early on, the FORWARD team realized fewer home-based childcare businesses applied to the Milpitas Small Business Assistance Program than expected. FORWARD Research Analyst, Alex Morrison, took the initiative to conduct additional research to understand why home-based childcare businesses were underrepresented compared to larger private childcare providers. From his research, we learned that California does not require business licenses for home-based childcare businesses with fewer than eight children. Since retaining an active business license was one of the program’s eligibility requirements, many of the smallest home-based childcare businesses were disinclined to apply for assistance.
The FORWARD team presented our findings to the City of Milpitas and implemented the following recommendations:
- While home-based childcare businesses do not have business licenses, they must register their smoke detector and fire extinguishers with the local fire department. FORWARD requested a list of home-based childcare businesses from the local fire department and supported the City in outreach efforts to help these small businesses.
- Specifically targeting home-based childcare businesses, the City and FORWARD launched a unique engagement and revised application process through the Milpitas FORWARD application portal, in addition to a special online training session to provide application support.
- As a result, 20 home-based childcare businesses each received $5,000 in funding through the Milpitas Small Business Assistance Program. They used the funds to pay for rent, payroll, and other business expenses incurred as a result of COVID-19.
“The City of Milpitas is committed to helping small businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to comprehensive administration support from FORWARD, we were able to fulfill our commitment and provide economic relief to Milpitas-based small and micro-enterprise businesses with the greatest need”
— Eddie Truong, Economic Development Specialist
Real-time and custom reporting to ensure the City stays in compliance
FORWARD started as a data-visualization company, so data is in our DNA. As part of our program administration, we provided comprehensive reporting to ensure the City of Milpitas adhered to all rules, regulations, and guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury for the administration of ARPA funds.
Since the FORWARD platform is profile-based, the City can access a system of accounts for every small business assistance applicant in conformance with generally accepted accounting principles for budgeted APRA funds. Businesses can also use the profiles they created when applying to the Small Business Assistance Grant Program to apply to other assistance programs and resources easily.
The FORWARD team also developed and presented the City with written policies and procedures for compliance and risk evaluation.
In addition, FORWARD filed CSLFRF and ARPA quarterly reports with the City of Milpitas, providing the type and number of services rendered to grant awardees and non-awardees throughout the administration of the Small Business Assistance Program.
With every program, FORWARD monitors, evaluates, and makes recommendations to ensure the program achieves its objectives and goals.
Applicants broken down by business type
“I really appreciate the assistance grant from the City of Milpitas. It helps my business to continue to survive after a year of pandemic disturbance. It helped me to pay the rent and salary. So far we are doing a little better, and wish to continue the business. Thank you, City of Milpitas.”
— Lam Tran, Owner of AKT Consulting Inc
With support from FORWARD, the City of Milpitas was able to successfully distribute $1,498,800 in ARPA funding to 343 small businesses. In addition, most Milpitas businesses were awarded a grant of $5,000, providing relief to many small business owners struggling to recover financially from the impact of the pandemic.