U.S. Department of Commerce Funds HOPE for Small Business Owners

By Laura McCamy

2 min read

In September, the Economic Development Agency of the U.S. Commerce Department announced it will give more than $2.5 million to the HOPE Inside Small Business Empowerment Initiative (SBEI). The money will go to fund free classes and technical support for small-business owners in 13 cities through nonprofit Operation HOPE. The aim of the program, according to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, is “to generate thousands of new businesses and entrepreneurs to serve as economic engines in those regions.” 

After the Rodney King beating trial and ensuing riots, Los Angeles businessman John Hope Bryant wanted to do something concrete to help the community heal. He founded Operation HOPE in 1992 with a $65,000 grant and one employee. Today, the organization has 1,000 employees in 300 U.S. cities as well as South Africa and Saudi Arabia. HOPE Inside, housed within select bank branches, provides credit counseling with the aim of helping people with poor credit raise their scores above 700. Over the past 22 years, the organization has helped 2 million individuals secure $1.5 million in private capital in the form of mortgages, personal loans, and small-business loans. 

“Our philosophy at HOPE is that we meet people right where they are. We treat people with love and dignity. We recognize the greatness in them even when they can’t see it themselves,” says Tyrone Cosey, market president for the northwestern region of Operation HOPE. “We spend time making sure people get what they need to be successful.” 

Operation HOPE in Oakland, Calif., where Cosey is based, offers two monthly small-business classes: one introductory session for people thinking about starting a business and one topical session, to provide additional training for small-business owners. For those ready to start a business, the nonprofit has a free 14-week entrepreneurial training program. Budding business owners can get credit counseling while they attend the program, so they will be on solid footing to apply for a business loan.

The Department of Commerce grant will help Operation HOPE expand its work to help existing businesses that “made it past the three- to four-year mark and they’re creating revenue, but they haven’t been able to take it to the next level,” says Cosey. In addition, the nonprofit will provide one-on-one technical assistance, including helping them access capital, financial counseling, and credit and money management training.

“We’re not a party of one here,” Cosey notes. “We really believe that you have to collaborate with SCORE and other organizations to achieve what you want to achieve.” The nonprofit connects entrepreneurs with programs that provide additional support. “You have to create a pathway for people to be successful,” says Cosey. “I liken it to a string of pearls. Every pearl takes you to the next step.”

Cosey says she expects the expanded SBEI program to roll out at the end of 2014 or early 2015. The cities targeted by the grant include:

  • Atlanta
  • Birmingham, Ala.
  • Memphis, Tenn.
  • Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Orlando, Fla.
  • Los Angeles
  • Oakland, Calif.
  • Phoenix
  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Las Vegas
  • New York
  • Baltimore
  • Washington, D.C.

Operation HOPE’s training programs are free and open to all. “We’re excited about it,” says Cosey. “We can’t wait to hit the ground and start working.”

Photo courtesy of Operation HOPE. Left to right: Kelvin Boston, Host of Moneywise, and Tyrone Cosey of Operation HOPE.

Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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