June 11, 2020 10:01:57 AM
Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce President Lisa James knows a little bit of money can make a big difference for businesses struggling financially.
As soon as even a small contribution comes in, James said, the ball starts rolling.
"You have customers, and now you can pay your bills. You can pay your bills, and you can be open another day," she said. "Sometimes you just need a little bridge to get to the other side."
That's precisely why James is in favor of the new Mississippi 30 Day Fund, a nonprofit that launched Monday to fund businesses who are in need of financial help because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization is fueled by donations, with businesses that receive up to the maximum $3,000 forgivable loan from the fund asked to "pay it forward" later when they're in better financial shape. It's also built on being fast: The fund aims to wire the money directly to qualifying businesses who applied within three days. Master's of Business Administration students at Mississippi State and law students at the University of Mississippi School of Law are reviewing applications on a volunteer basis.
Marie Sanderson of Ocean Springs, who founded the fund with her husband Brian, said the faster businesses can receive money, the better.
"Last month, in a response to a survey by Main Street America, two-thirds of Mississippi small businesses said they feared having to close their doors within five months," Sanderson said in an email. "So time is of the essence here."
To James, the pace of the program is geared toward keeping businesses open just a few days longer to start with.
"I think the whole point of it is, 'You don't have to close this weekend. You can stay open this weekend,'" James said. "It's that quickly."
Jennifer Gregory, president of Downtown Solutions for Relief Solutions, is a friend of the Sandersons and one of more than 30 members of the 30 Day Fund's advisory board. The former CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership said what small businesses need most right now is capital, and the fund provides that.
"The intention is for these loans to prevent the shutdown of small businesses whose profits have drastically dwindled as of the past few months," Gregory said.
Brandt Galloway, owner of Galloway Chandler McKinney Insurance in Columbus, is another member of the organization's advisory board. He said he was impressed with how quickly the 30 Day Fund was launched and commended the Sandersons, whom he has known for 20 years, for setting it up.
"It's really intended to be a quick shot in the arm for small businesses," Galloway said.
Executive Director Julia Grant said the fund has no current overhead, relying on seed money from board members and other donations to operate. That's part of what makes the nonprofit alluring, she said.
"One of the most exciting aspects of working with the Fund is that our operating balance is constantly in flux as donations from altruistic Mississippians continue to roll in," Grant said in an email "... Our goal is to fundraise and fund simultaneously -- to keep funding qualifying businesses as long as new donations permit."
Gregory knows how many businesses in the Starkville area depend on the presence of tourists for sports tournaments, arts shows and other events, and she said the fund came at the perfect time for many who have lost those things and with them substantial portions of their revenue.
"This is an absolutely critical provision for these small businesses to prevent closure," she said.
Across the Golden Triangle, James feels the same way.
"I think it's a great idea, and I think as many Columbus businesses as possible should apply," James said.
Interested business owners can submit their applications on the fund's website, ms30dayfund.com.
Theo DeRosa reports on high school sports and Mississippi State softball for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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