CT Lt. Gov. Bysiewicz visits Norwich, promotes grants for women in business

NORWICH — State funding has helped MB Graphic Designs owner Michelle Blais is growing her home-based website design business, allowing her to add hands-on classes for businesses looking for an online presence.

“Not only does this help my business create an additional stream of income, but it helps other business owners develop their own marketing materials, write their own website, and choose their own images with confidence,” said Blais said.

MB Graphic Designs was one of the women-owned businesses featured in Norwich on Friday morning, during a tour of Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz. Bysiewicz, the Women’s Business Development Counciland other local and state officials have promoted Women’s Equity Matching Grant outside the recently opened Norwich Fitness Center on Wisconsin Ave.

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The grant can give majority women-owned businesses between $2,500 and $10,000. The program is in its fourth wave and registration continues until February 13.

Bysciewiz said the program was created in 2020 after seeing an inequity in the distribution of funds from the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) program. Eighty percent of the funds went to white-owned businesses and 80 percent to male-owned businesses.

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“We thought it was important to have a program focused on women-owned businesses and women-owned businesses of color,” Bysiewicz said.

Of the grants awarded so far, Bysiewicz said 33% have gone to businesses owned by women of color.

State Senator Cathy Osten said Friday that the future of business in the region will come from honoring and supporting Norwich’s diversity, pointing to a trade fair organized by Latinos for advocacy and diversity in education that will be held in Norwich city center at the same time.

People exercising in the crossfit section of the new Norwich Fitness Centre.  Owner Gina Facchini said funding from the Women's Equity Match Grant helped her with the expansion.

“That’s how Norwich is going to develop, and that’s what we need here,” Osten said.

The state contributed $1.5 million to fund the program, and the Women’s Business Development Council also contributed $1.5 million.

So far, the program has given $1 million to 98 businesses statewide, according to Alicia De Santa, coordinator of the Development Council’s Opportunity Fund program.

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Some of the program requirements include that the business must be based in and in good standing with the state, have been in operation for at least two years, and have an annual revenue of between $25,000 and $2 million. Also, the funds should be used to grow the business, not to cover day-to-day expenses.

“The goal of our program is to help support and grow what businesses do, so it needs to have real impact,” said Wendy Vincent, Women’s Business Development Council program manager for Eastern Connecticut. .

Norwich Fitness Center owner Gina Facchini says funding from the Women's Equity Match Grant has helped her grow.

The Norwich Fitness Center also received money from the program, $10,000. Owner Gina Facchini said the funds were earmarked for more equipment to help with social distancing and more supplies for the gym’s youth programs. Facchini said it was her first time applying for a grant and she was glad she received it.

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“It has given me the boost of confidence to continue to pursue this dream,” said Facchini, speaking of his company’s recent move from Norwich city center to Norwich Business Park.

Michelle Blais explained how her $10,000 grant from the Women's Equity Match Grant helped her develop a course to help businesses with their online presence.

Blais said his company, MB Graphic Design, helps small and medium-sized businesses have an online presence. Blais said he received $10,000 and used it to hire a videographer and make the online course as professional as possible, while also marketing the course.

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She also created a less expensive version of her course and looks forward to bringing more courses to small business owners.

For those not ready yet, De Santa said there will be a fifth round of funding in the spring or summer.

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