M&T Bank 2 matches in Bridgeport in November.
The grants are part of an eight-week Multicultural Small Business Lab run by M&T Bank in partnership with the University of Bridgeport.
Originating in Buffalo, NY, the program trains racially and ethnically diverse small businesses on topics including business planning, marketing and branding, networking and merchandising.
It has expanded to five cities and will run again in Bridgeport in 2023.
The program ended Wednesday with seven finalists pitching their companies to a judge, who awarded grants to four participants.
Carmen Nieves proposed a workforce and business development organization, and she said she wanted her business to reach its full potential through the program.
“I want to grow my business,” she said. “I’ve always helped people get jobs, but I wanted to do it in a way that helps more businesses and makes me feel good.”
Nieves said every class was valuable, but the most important thing she got was that the people at M&T Bank believed in her and her cohorts.
“It’s about relationships,” she said.
“Build relationships with people who trust you, trust you to work with them, and know you’ll do what you say you’ll do.
“Since M&T came here, they have really shown that they put their money where their mouth is.”
Although she didn’t win, Nieves said the lessons learned from M&T Bank’s plans were crucial to moving forward.
“This class really helped me hone my message,” Nieves said. “I’ve changed the way I present my business in every class, right down to the pitch.”
“Building a Community”
For Frank Micalizzi, regional president of M&T Bank Bridgeport, the lab is a continuation of M&T Bank’s support for small businesses.
“Small businesses are very important to our bank,” he said. “This is the beginning of building a community.”
Micalizzi said the project is one of many that M&T Bank has done for small businesses.
He highlighted the company’s M&T Spotlight Shop, which allows businesses to use pop-up spaces in popular areas of their communities for a two-week segment.
“A lot of them are very hardworking people, and they don’t always have a way through marketing and advertising,” he said.
“It’s been very successful to highlight a small business client and give them some exposure, and they sometimes don’t have the capital to do it themselves.”
Micalizzi said M&T Bank will continue to help small businesses through programs such as the Multicultural Small Business Lab.
“We see them as successful economic engines,” he said.
“In terms of the economy and jobs, it really starts with small businesses.”