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USF Center for Entrepreneurship Taking Initiatives to Help Startups Succeed during COVID-19 Crisis

By Keith Morelli

TAMPA (April 9, 2020) -- What could be worse for young entrepreneurs who have just started out than to have the government ordering them to close up shop indefinitely? Investors are calling, rent is due and start-up owners can’t do anything with a warehouse half full of product they can’t get to the public. In the meantime, these young entrepreneurs burn through their scarce resources, especially cash. 

The closure is not of their doing, yet they are out of business for the foreseeable future. Many are facing this troubling situation now, as non-essential businesses all over the state and nation are shuttered to stem the spread of COVID-19. When the business ban will be lifted is anyone’s guess, but most speculate it could be another four to six weeks at the minimum.

“One important way to survive is bootstrapping,” said Dirk Libaers, associate professor of entrepreneurship and innovation and the assistant director of the USF Center for Entrepreneurship at the Muma College of Business. “Bootstrapping – creative ways of getting by without relying on external funding or assistance – is all about being cheap to weather the crisis; hiring unpaid interns, taking on any revenue generating project, leasing instead of buying and buying second- or third-hand equipment.

“At the same time,” he said, “entrepreneurs and small business owners should seek government assistance to keep their business afloat.”

Startups struggling in this crisis can look to the USF Center for Entrepreneurship for some valuable insight and information that could point beleaguered new business owners in the right direction for help.

“We are compiling a set of website links that are pertinent to small business assistance as part of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act that was passed recently in Congress,” Libaers said. “We include legitimate websites to government resources at the federal, state and local level.” To visit the website, click here.

The webpage, will include a comprehensive set of programs at the federal, state and county or even city level focused on helping startups and small businesses maintain their payroll and ensure sufficient working capital to operate at a lower scale. Scaling up an existing business is easier than starting from scratch again after a liquidation.

The information includes:

  • A general overview of the CARES Act relevant for small businesses.
  • Detailed financial assistance opportunities at the federal, state and local level.
  • Details on the paycheck protection loan program for small businesses, self-employed and Gig workers that keeps paychecks going. For example, if employers maintain their payroll, government loans will be forgiven. The center’s site offer details on the application process, who is eligible and what it covers.
  • Information on the Economic Injury Disaster loan program which is a low-interest, fixed-rate loan that can provide up to $2 million in assistance for small businesses and can be used to pay immediate expenses during an emergency. Listed are links to the application process, information on who is eligible and what the program covers.
  • A section on frequently asked questions, gleaned from the official U.S. Department of Labor, Department of the Treasury websites and local websites as well.

More will be added over time, Libaers said. “We hope and expect the federal government to pass additional relief bills for startups and small business through Congress.”

“The USF Center for Entrepreneurship does not offer legally binding advice,” Libaers said, “because others within the ecosystem are much more qualified to do this.

For example, he said, one extremely valuable source for entrepreneurs are the Small Business Development Centers around the nation, and especially the Florida SBDC at USF, which is affiliated with the Muma College of Business.

“The Florida SBDC at USF boasts an exceptional team of experts that deals with new and small businesses all the time,” Libaers said, “and by now are familiar with the CARES Act portions that are relevant for small businesses.”