SEATTLE– Seattle University has received a three-year $500,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase to implement a new program that offers tailored business training and development services to neighborhood businesses in Seattle’s Central Area – the Resource Amplification & Management Program (RAMP). The grant is part of JPMorgan Chase’s “Small Business Forward” program, which recently announced the $75 million initiative to accelerate the growth of minority-, women-, and veteran-owned small businesses.
RAMP will focus the existing resources of Seattle U and the community, including students, faculty, staff, volunteers, alumni, neighborhood partners, and service providers, on Central Area businesses that are minority-, women-, and immigrant-owned, so that they can stay, grow, and thrive as Seattle’s economic boom continues. Many of these businesses are confronting lost retail space, rising rents, shifting markets, and construction impacts that are forcing them to close or move, even though they represent the essential social, ethic, and economic “fabric” of the Central Area community.
Seattle U’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (IEC) team, led by Executive Director Sue Oliver, is the grant recipient, and has been working to augment the existing business services and capacity within the Central Area community over the past year, through a pilot project also funded by JPMorgan Chase. With assistance from Seattle U faculty, staff, students, volunteers and service providers, the RAMP team will focus initially on the requirements of neighborhood businesses in the Central Area.
“The objective is to work with the business owners to create a customized strategic game plan with multiple elements, from marketing to raising capital and more for their long-term success and sustainability,” said Oliver. “Together, we’re building upon their existing strengths, resources, and capabilities.” Over the next three years, the RAMP team will provide business resources, training, coaching, and connections to over 200 businesses, thanks to the JPMorgan Chase grant, which is the IEC’s single largest organizational grant in its history.
“JPMorgan Chase is committed to helping communities make a long-term investment in increasing the access to career pathways and turning these opportunities into meaningful employment down the road,” said JPMorgan Chase Northwest Philanthropy Manager Cat Martin. “We feel our support of Seattle University’s RAMP Program is an important way we are helping to build the long-term success of the local economy.”
“The RAMP business-campus-community engagement model requires successful community partnerships and aligns with the Seattle U mission around community engagement and empowering leaders for the greater good,” said Joseph Phillips, Dean of the Seattle U Albers School of Business and Economics.
Here’s how RAMP works: Qualified student interns serve as year-long client relationship manager trainees who, along with a small team of experienced business mentors, work with a small portfolio of 4-5 neighborhood business owners to assess their requirements and connect them to business resources. These resources include referrals to existing civic and private business services, as well as to Seattle U’s own interns, class projects, faculty researchers and volunteer mentors. The RAMP team also provides basic business coaching to inspire the clients and hold them accountable to learn and build their own capacity to succeed over a multi-year time frame. For as long as they choose, RAMP clients will receive a client relationship management intern and resource team each year.
The RAMP team will also offer advisory services to qualified nonprofits and other organizations that are currently servicing Central Area businesses, in areas such as governance, marketing, and leadership development. “An important part of the RAMP process,” said Oliver, “is to create a strong model for business-campus-community engagement with case studies, outcome metrics and best practices that can be replicated and expanded across the region and, ultimately, nationwide.”
“We need to protect and strengthen valuable community assets in these neighborhoods,” said Doris Koo, lead consultant with Yesler Community Collaborative, a nonprofit working with Seattle U on this project. “Business owners and entrepreneurs help us create more livable neighborhoods and preserve the cultural diversity that makes Seattle a great city. The RAMP project can make a huge contribution to their continued growth and success.”
In addition to building a national model for this program, Oliver envisions a future that includes more robust training courses for small business owners.
“A big opportunity is to better prepare neighborhood businesses for bank or investor funding, as well as for supplier contracts and commercial space,” notes Oliver. “It’s really about building upon what they’re already doing very well and conveying a more compelling story for lenders, investors, organizational purchasers, and commercial property managers.”