Small businesses owned by women and people of color can get a boost from a new $1 million grant program announced on Thursday by Comcast that will award $10,000 to 100 local entrepreneurs.

The new grants are an expansion of Comcast RISE, a multi-year commitment to provide marketing, creative, media and technology services to small businesses owned by people of color or women.

“Small businesses we believe are at the heart of every community that we serve,” said Toni Murphy, senior vice president of Comcast’s Keystone Region, at a kickoff event on Thursday at Nova Place. “And this is why we must take every opportunity to give back to them and help those hardest hit by the pandemic.”

The first round of the Comcast RISE Investment Fund, announced in April 2021, provided grants to 500 small businesses owned by people of color in five cities: Philadelphia/Chester, Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit. Round two was announced in September 2021, providing grants to 600 small businesses in six locations: Miami, Houston, Oakland, Seattle, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul and Washington, D.C.

Pittsburgh is one of five locations, including Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and the Twin Cities, that was selected to participate in the latest phase of the program. 

Eligible businesses that have been operational for three or more years with up to 25 employees can submit applications online from June 1-14. There are separate applications for the Comcast RISE marketing and technology services awards and the Comcast RISE Investment Fund. Eligible business owners may apply for either or both programs.

Recipients will be announced later this summer.

To help drive awareness about the program and provide additional support and mentorship, Comcast is partnering with Neighborhood Allies, the Mon Valley Initiative, and the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

Since it launched in November 2020, the Comcast RISE core program has supported 19 businesses in Western Pennsylvania with a TV campaign; production of a TV commercial or consulting services; or computer equipment, internet, voice or cybersecurity from Comcast Business. Recipients include Paper Reign, Pittsburgh Native Cuts and Styles, Back to the Foodture and Casa Brasil.

Gina Florez, owner of Paper Reign in Mt. Lebanon, says her business struggled during the pandemic as she saw her workforce fall from 12 to three. 

“I was kind of surprised that we won,” she says, because she had unsuccessfully applied for other small business grant programs.  

She says the RISE program was essential to the survival of her business but she isn’t out of the woods yet. “We are still getting through it.”

Comcast RISE, which stands for Representation, Investment, Strength and Empowerment, was formed to help small businesses hit by the economic impact of the pandemic.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald spoke about the barriers to success that small business owners face who were compounded by the pandemic. “Sometimes it’s a thing like a $10,000 grant that will allow them to get those bills paid, pay their payroll and keep the operation going.”