Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg U, M&T Bank launch program, competition to encourage, nurture diverse businesses

Harrisburg University’s Jamal Jones, right, speaks at the launch of the “Capital Region Multicultural Small Business Innovation Lab: Bridges to Success.”

Do you have what it takes?

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur in the Harrisburg area, you may now have a chance to acquire skills and knowledge—and maybe even some cash—to help you realize your small business dream.

At a press conference on Thursday, the city, M&T Bank and Harrisburg University’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship announced a startup business program called the “Capital Region Multicultural Small Business Innovation Lab: Bridges to Success.”

The six-week program aims to provide budding entrepreneurs of minority-owned businesses with guidance and resources to help hone their ideas and accelerate their growth. It will be capped off with a “Shark Tank”-style business pitch competition, with the winner receiving as much as $5,000 from M&T Bank.

“Our program is designed to provide multicultural business owners with the skills needed to build strong businesses to help generate a stronger community economically here in the city as well as to help build generational wealth,” said Natalie Wech, senior vice president, business banking, central Pennsylvania, for M&T Bank.

The partnership and program were founded following input from the community, she said.

“It is the result of a focus group last year in Harrisburg and held with local community leaders, who shared with us challenges they notice in the community for startup businesses,” Wech said.

The six-week program will offer free guidance and resources focused on business planning, establishing credit, accessing capital, marketing, branding and networking. It is open to Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx and Asian-American entrepreneurs doing business in the capital region for fewer than three years and whose gross annual revenue does not exceed $350,000.

Applications for the program will be accepted until April 25. You can apply here.

According to Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams, the new business climate in Harrisburg is already strong. At the kickoff event, she said that, since the beginning of the year, over 60 new businesses have begun in the city, with “at least two dozen [of these] run by minority business owners.”

“One of the top priorities of our administration is to create a Harrisburg which gives everyone a chance to start their own business,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Black, if you’re white, if you’re Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern. Harrisburg is one of the most diverse cities in the commonwealth.”

Williams mentioned that, just last week, the city held a ribbon cutting at the Original Hot Dog Factory franchise, a Black-owned business at 317 Market St. in downtown Harrisburg. In fact, just two blocks away, today was the first day of business at Café de Olla, a Mexican cuisine-inspired eatery at 210 N. 3rd St.

HU’s Center or Innovation & Entrepreneurship will run the program.

“We acknowledge the significant challenges faced by multicultural and ethnically diverse business owners,” said the center’s program manager, Jamal Jones. “By participating in the Multicultural Small Business Innovation Lab with M&T Bank, we’ll team up to create an equal system of resources and support for entrepreneurs who need the most help.”

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