Skip to main content

Business Support Grantees Program Progress

In late 2021, Open4 awarded $1.3 million to six business support organizations / programs in Buffalo and Rochester, NY that predominantly focus on serving businesses owned by women and people of color in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

Each grantee reported its initial outcomes and progress. Open4 is pleased to share these outcomes …

Small Business Development Center

Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the State University of New York College at Buffalo was awarded $347,424 to support a Next Level Business Practices program for Minority and Women Business Enterprises (MWBEs) and disadvantaged business owners.

  • The program launched promptly in October 2021 and is on target to run six times/year. 
  • Its goal is to have at least twelve small business owners fully complete the program within each eight-week training class.
  • To date, four (4) eight-week cycles were completed with 73 graduates. 
  • Dates of ongoing/upcoming trainings are:
    • Cohort Four – May 3 – June 23, 2022
    • Cohort Five – June 28 – August 25, 2022
    • Cohort Six – August 30 – October 20, 2022
    • Cohort Seven- October 25 – December 15, 2022
  • The SBDC plans to continue the program into next year and is working on dates for 2023. 
  • The hands-on training focuses on: 
    • Perfecting a thirty-second pitch, one-minute pitch, seven-minute pitch
    • Creating and delivering a 7-minute PowerPoint presentation
    • Preparing a well-written Capability Statement
    • Learning the key elements of a Request for Proposal (RFP) and practice sessions for responding to such documents
    • Preparing a professional email
    • Creating and utilizing LinkedIn, including being professionally photographed
  • Participants are connected with various buyers in Buffalo. Buyers describe what they are looking for from a potential vendor. Members of the class are also given an opportunity to present to the buyer.
  • A graduation ceremony is held in the Jaquelene Vito Louisso Alumni & Visitor Center on the Buffalo State College campus. At graduation, each participant gives their thirty-second pitch, one-minute pitch, or seven-minute pitch.
  • If needed, businesses are provided with additional guidance such as marketing communication support and how to shift from a DBA to an LLC.
  • All participants are welcomed as clients of the Small Business Development Center where they can benefit from long-term, one-to-one counseling during the eight-week program and into the future.
    • Mentor-driven exploration of business goals and plan development
  • With funding from Open4, the EEA provides much-needed additions to the MWEE program, including an evidence-based emphasis on the personal attributes required for entrepreneurial success, direct engagement with the regional entrepreneurial community and resources, and professional leadership coaching.
  • Partnering with the Buffalo Urban League, the accelerator provides networking events, a pre-launch workshop, credit repair counseling, and access to experts for answers to pressing business challenges or questions.
  •  Specific accomplishments include:
    • MWEE Accelerator enrollment: began with 42, and currently has 37 active participants.
    • Enhanced MWEE curriculum focuses more hands-on work into the completion of the business model canvas
    • Three networking and open house events

Testimonials from Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the State University of New York College at Buffalo

Michael, as much as I regret missing out on this class graduation, I wanted to take the time to personally thank you and the SBDC for offering such a great opportunity to learn in a great environment. The ability to be remote really helps but the participation of other businesses, as well as your personal life experience, is what I find the most valuable. The guests are also very knowledgeable and are a great resource. I’ve reached out to several other business participants for their services or to share their knowledge. I will be signing up for my third cohort because this is a great resource with great business connections — both direct and indirect. Thank you again and I look forward to working again in the future with you as well as the SBDC.

— Eric Zielinski, Zielinski Mechanical LLC

The Ultimate Marketing and Contract Readiness Program is just that. It is the ultimate! Michael McCarley is a master teacher. He imparts Knowledge effortlessly. He teaches in many layers. Here are just a few things I learned from the class:

1) The class taught me how to think, yes how to think. It helped me focus my ideas into one complete thought. That in turn helped me anticipate and solve problems

2) The Networking potential is endless: it is a great resource for growth. To this day I still collaborate with past classmates.

3) And of course, the staff. I can’t sing their praises enough. They really extend themselves for each of us. As students, we never felt like we were not capable or a burden.

I have so much more to say but time does not allow me to truly express my appreciation for Michael McCarley, and his staff. They have changed my life for the better. As a retired teacher, it was truly refreshing to learn from a capable and dedicated staff.

— Nicolas Lamour, NL Solutions LLC

I really enjoyed taking the Contract Readiness course through the SBDC office at Buff State. This was essential in helping to gain confidence in speaking in front of a group. I also really got great feedback on how to communicate what my business is about. I enjoyed hearing from all of the other participants as well. It is wonderful to connect with other members of our community. I have continued to network with members after the classes. I also found the information very useful for future projects. I understand the importance of a precise pitch and of speaking as your business, not as an individual.

I feel these classes have opened doors for more opportunities for me. I just became a homeowner of a multi-family property and that was not an easy feat for me. The classes helped me with the confidence to do that and see the process through. I also got incredible help putting together my professional website as a result of the program. I also learned what was needed and submitted everything so that I can obtain my NY state MWBE certification as a result of the program which will help me to gain access to even more opportunities than my Erie County certification. Once things ease up in my schedule (currently renovating our home so that we can get renters into the second unit) I will be working on utilizing my newfound experience to gain contracts as an artist. Thank you to all who helped with the program. Especially Mr. McCarley and Mauricio Canton Diaz who invited me to participate. 

— Danielle Matesich, MMDM Services and Design

As a multicultural female small business owner, I highly recommend the MWBE course to other women and minority business owners. The class brought into focus and addressed conflicting cultural and gender norms that are essential to acknowledge in order to be successful in the business world. The small class size afforded individualized attention, and facilitated networking opportunities between participants. I originally joined to strengthen my pitch and prepare me for additional opportunities but came away with so much more!

— Sajida Nieves, Reina Photography

The Foundry

The Foundry was awarded $50,000 to support the Buffalo E-commerce Technical Assistance (BETA) program, an in-depth e-commerce training program with virtual courses and applied hands-on support which is being developed in partnership with Next Street. 

  • A Needs Assessment Survey was developed and distributed with the goal of gaining a better understanding of the landscape of e-commerce business needs. 
  • The two partner organizations used the information gathered as well as their own direct experiences in working with small businesses to put together a three-part curriculum for a cohort of 10 individuals to receive e-commerce education as well as technical assistance. 
  • They also developed a list of professional service providers that will be accessible to participants through the “BETA Bank.” 
  • The pilot of the program launched May 24 and new curriculum was added weekly
  • Once participants complete the three-part curriculum (Business Basics for Online Companies, Website Basics/ECommerce Essentials, and Content Creation/Storytelling), they will be invited to meet one-on-one with The Foundry staff to discuss their next steps and how they want to use a “Bank” of hours available to them from professional service providers. 
  • Participants will also be invited to attend a safety orientation at The Foundry which would allow them to utilize tools in its makerspaces and use the co-working classroom space.
    • Participants will get access for free for up to six months. 

For more information, call or email: Megan McNally, Executive Director, 716-885-1381 or

University at Buffalo Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership

University at Buffalo Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) was awarded $326,535 to support its Emerging Entrepreneur Accelerator, a nine-month entrepreneurial training program that matches each participant with an experienced business coach for customized attention. 

  • Partnering with the Buffalo Urban League, CEL launched the Emerging Entrepreneur Accelerator (EEA) as a value-add to CEL’s existing Minority and Women Emerging Entrepreneur (MWEE) program. MWEE provides:
    • Bi-weekly workshops (Sept-May) guiding participants in the creation of a Business Model Canvas
    • A full-day Pre-Launch Workshop held in January at Northland Training Center was facilitated by the Buffalo Urban League and attended by 22 emerging entrepreneurs.
    • Virtual networking event and Introduction to Professional Coaching program was held in January and attended by 28 participants and their coaches.
    • Each class participant was paired with an established business owner as a mentor. Each mentor assisted their mentee in identifying smart goals, creating an action plan for goals, and holding the participant accountable for the execution of the action plan. Mentors are also instrumental in connecting their mentee with resources and networks.
    • One-on-one professionally facilitated leadership coaching began this past February. Each participant is given ten one-hour private appointments with their coach to work on identifying challenge areas in their leadership and entrepreneurial effectiveness and to craft a development plan for positively addressing those challenges. Total Coaching Recipients: 34
    • The Buffalo Urban League presented the importance of understanding and managing credit and offered free credit repair counseling services to help prepare and position emerging businesses for growth through business loans.
    • Guest experts presented to the MWEE Accelerator and participants were invited to join a five-day Business Model Canvas Bootcamp.
  • The MWEE is also making solid progress on the development of a digital library of business development workshops and webinars. 

For more information, call or email: 716-885-5715 or

Testimonials from UB MWEE Emerging Entrepreneur Accelerator (EEA) Participants

My business mentor cannot be more perfect for the type of guidance that I need to develop my invention. And after meeting my coach/mentor from the EEA program, I am not only super excited but, I am also extremely impressed with how she is just who I needed!!! When I filled out the form and was asked what I was hoping to gain from my coach/mentor, I said that I am open to learning from them with whatever they can teach me … and I am just blown away with the fact that I now have someone to guide me through getting the product made, and whose field of expertise will prepare me to present my product and sell it!! I feel like God is moving mountains on my behalf. I could not have even imagined such an amazing outcome. So, I just wanted to say I am just overwhelmed with gratitude and so excited to be a part of this. I don’t know who does the matching of students to coaches but they are excellent!

— Kamilah Whitfield (MWEE Accelerator 2022)

This program has helped me tremendously. I came into the program with an established business that, although it was growing, lacked the organization and skillset to sustain.

– Joyelle Hackett (MWEE Accelerator 2022)

I learned so much that will help me to grow my business. We were connected with knowledgeable professionals which opened many doors for us. Individual coaching sessions were invaluable to me. I also formed strong relationships with my classmates who are in the same situations, had the same questions, and faced the same challenges as myself. The program gave me the resources, tools, and confidence to move forward in my business. I would highly recommend this program for people who are starting their own business and those who are looking to grow their business.”

– Michelle Spencer (MWEE Accelerator 2022)

The Women’s Business Center at Canisius College

The Women’s Business Center at Canisius College was awarded $144,094 to fund a Business Loan Education Certification Class which teaches financial management skills/credit building and prepares women entrepreneurs to apply for and receive funding. With the goal of getting more loan approvals for women, this new program will provide customized research-driven financial training and credit counseling from Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS) of Buffalo. The program ties together the existing collaborative partnerships between the Women’s Business Center, CCCS, and local community development financial institutions to work together towards their goal of getting more capital in the hands of women entrepreneurs. Clients who complete the program receive a certificate from the Women’s Business Center allowing them to receive a discount on their risk rating score from Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI) that helps qualify them for more money through a microloan.

  • The Women’s Business Center (WBC) released an RFP in November 2021 to select a contractor for the research and development phase (first year) of the project. Danielle Blount of Blount Consulting Solutions was selected and project work began in January of 2022.
  • Phase I of this project was to conduct research and interviews with technical assistance and funding providers/partners in the Western New York small business ecosystem to better understand the current lending options available to women business owners, the current barriers to funding, how future programs can overcome them, and create more connectivity between the WBC and CFDI financing programs. Main findings included:
    • There is funding available but still a lack of early financing for the earliest stage of entrepreneurs
    • Those who are looking for growth capital but do not meet revenue requirements of certain loan providers.
  • Phase II which focused on client outreach and surveys sought to understand the barriers from the entrepreneurs’ standpoint and create a full picture of where the mismatch in education and financial literacy is. This ultimately informed how the curriculum needs to be built and structured.
  • Phase III took the results of the research, circled back to the partners to tie together what was learned, and created the first draft of the program curriculum. 
  • Next steps consist of getting a sample class together to run through the program to ensure fluidity, ease and functionality of the program.

 For more information, call or email: Sara Vescio, Executive Director, at (716) 888-8280 or

Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Rochester

Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS) of Rochester was awarded $92,021 for expansion of its Small Business Owner Credit Building Program. Piloted in 2017 and based on a successful national program, this program is designed to reach more clients by leveraging partnerships and conducting targeted outreach. Partners include the Greece Regional Chamber, IBERO Business Center, Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Rochester Public Library.

  • Program leaders, referral partners, staff, and counselors met to review the program launch and confirm processes/procedures. A program brochure was developed and printed.
  • The counseling system was updated as needed to facilitate the expanded program.
  • Current education materials and counseling curriculum were reviewed to identify and incorporate any needed changes/updates
  • A central repository of the counseling curriculum and materials was finalized in month 5. The repository will continue to be enhanced throughout the project.
  • Mechanisms to track progress and program milestone achievements were built.
  • Referral channels/processes and procedures w/ partners, staff, and counselors were finalized. Partners have been provided referral information and tools to make referrals of small business owner clients who need personal financial counseling. This includes enrollment in a shared online platform known as UniteUs, as well as a direct email address and an online form that clients can complete. Staff and counselors have been fully trained in processing referrals.
  • Project goals include 60 outreach presentations to educate 500 small business owners and targeted financial/credit counseling for 200 small business owners.
  • Project outcomes include 150 small business owners gaining increased financial/credit knowledge; 100 improving their credit scores within 6 months after counseling 100 and 50 accessing capital due to improved credit.

For more information, call or email: Chad Rieflin, Director of Programs and Grants, (585) 546-3440 or

The Urban League of Rochester

The Urban League of Rochester was awarded $350,000 to support its Community Business Academy (CBA), a comprehensive training program for business owners that connects them with funding to launch or grow their business. The curriculum is designed around best practices in adult participatory learning methodology with a focus on the management skills necessary to start and grow a successful small business. 

  • The first cohort of the 12, three-hour-long weekly sessions started in September 2021 and concluded at the end of December 2021. Seventeen students were enrolled students with 94% completing the course.
  • Topics covered were: Business Simulation, Personal Credit and Budgeting, Competition and Target Marketing, Breakeven and Pricing, Cash Flow, Bookkeeping, Marketing, Business Financing and Legal Structures and Intellectual Property and Insurance.
  • Two guest speakers participated. Shawn Turner of Cap Tax Finance spoke on the importance of business structure and business taxes and Angela Rollins from the City of Rochester spoke on how small business owners can utilize as a source for small business loans.

Testimonies from CBA Cohort 1

My business is Wildflower Consulting LLC, I help women turn their side-hustles into profitable brands using personally curated strategies. I also assist with uncovering additional income streams. I had an amazing experience as a CBA student. CBA really helped me to understand the financial side of my business. It forced me to take a closer look at my expenses, profit, etc. ultimately assisting in my business growth.

– Khara Grant

Since joining the CBA I have received a $10,000 grant from Monroe County, I have secured a $6,000 loan from Kiva, and I am in the process of signing my contract for the International Market. I hired Wildflower Consulting to help with marketing, which is my fellow CBA classmate Khara’s business. I also purchased an advertisement in Tina Cummings’ digital magazine, She Inspires, as she also is my CBA classmate. The CBA has been an asset to my business and I am truly honored to be a part of the first cohort class.

– Brandy Cunningham