An effort called Open4, launched during the pandemic to help small businesses and nonprofits survive over the long haul, has awarded about $3 million in funding.
Open4 chose to distribute the funds among three Community Development Financial Institutions serving Buffalo and Rochester: the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, Pursuit, and PathStone Enterprise Center. CDFIs specialize in providing financial services to businesses and individuals in low-income communities.
Open4 was created just over a year ago with funding support from KeyBank and the First Niagara Foundation, M&T Bank, the John R. Oishei Foundation, Pegula Sports & Entertainment and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. Overall, about $6 million has been committed to the effort. It's designed to be an ongoing resource, providing mentoring, technical assistance, organizational capacity building, business services and financial tools.
Open4's focus is on small businesses and nonprofit organizations, with particular emphasis on women- and minority-owned businesses and enterprises in underserved and low- to moderate-income communities.
The three CDFIs will use the funding to expand their capabilities and outreach, said Sally Crowley, an Open4 spokesperson. The University at Buffalo Regional Institute researched which organizations would be the best fit for the funds.
"Those three kind of rose to the top as doing a lot of work with lower income and diverse markets and underserved markets," Crowley said. "And that's the idea behind Open4."
Open4 is providing the CDFIs with direct funding to provide additional business and financial support programs and services, technical assistance to build their own capabilities, and marketing and promotion to connect with more small businesses.
With $3 million distributed to the CDFIs, that leaves about $3 million of the original funding commitment for Open4 to award. Crowley said plans call for distributing the other $3 million to business support organizations by the end of the year.
"We're still fundraising, so we hope to continue the program and actually build the funding of it as we move forward," Crowley said.
Open4 is managed day-to-day by a program management team led by the UB Regional Institute. The Community Reinvestment Fund and the Urban Institute also serve as implementation partners.