M&T Bank awarded $15,000 in grants to four local small businesses at a November 2 pitch in Bridgeport.
The grants were part of M&T Bank’s eight-week Multicultural Small Business Lab, conducted in partnership with the University of Bridgeport.
Originating in Buffalo, New York, the course trains racially and ethnically diverse small businesses on topics such as business planning, marketing and branding, networking and pitching.
It has expanded to five cities and will be held again in Bridgeport in 2023.
The program ended on Wednesday with seven finalists presenting their companies to a jury that awarded grants to four participants.
Carmen Nieves, who launched a people and business development organization, said she wanted her company to reach its full potential through the program.
“I want to grow my business,” she says. “I’ve always helped people find jobs, but I wanted to do it in a way that would help more businesses and make me feel good.”
Nieves said every class was valuable, but the most important thing she got was that she had people from M&T Bank who believed in her and her cohort.
“It’s about relationships,” she said.
“Relationships with people who believe in you, who trust you to work with them, and who know you will do as you say.
“And since M&T came here, they’ve really shown that they put their money where their mouth is.”
Although she didn’t win, Nieves said the lessons learned from the M&T Bank program are critical to moving forward.
“This class really helped me refine my message,” Nieves said. “I changed the way I present my company in every course up to the pitch.”
For M&T Bank Bridgeport Regional President Frank Micalizzi, the lab is a continuation of M&T Bank’s support for small businesses.
“Small companies are very important to our bank,” he said. “This is the beginning of community building.”
Micalizzi said this program is one of many that M&T Bank offers to small businesses.
He highlighted the company’s M&T Spotlight Shop, which allows businesses to use a pop-up space in a popular area of their community for two-week segments.
“A lot of them are really hardworking people who don’t always have the funds through marketing and advertising,” he said.
“It was very successful to highlight a small business customer and give them some exposure that they sometimes didn’t have the means to do themselves.”
Micalizzi said M&T Bank will continue to support small businesses through programs such as the Multicultural Small Business Lab.
“We believe that they are the economic engine for success,” he said.
“In terms of the economy and employment, it really starts with small businesses.”