M&T Bank awarded $15,000 in grants to four local small businesses in a pitch competition Nov. 2 in Bridgeport.
The grants were part of M&T Bank’s eight-week Multicultural Small Business Lab, run in conjunction with the University of Bridgeport.
The course originated in Buffalo, New York, and trains racially and ethnically diverse small businesses in topics ranging from business planning, marketing and branding, networking, and pitching.
It has expanded to five cities and will run again in Bridgeport in 2023.
The program ended on Wednesday with seven finalists pitching their businesses to a judging panel, which awarded grants to four participants.
Carmen Nieves, who presented a workforce and business development organization, 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 find jobs, but I wanted to do it in a way that helps more businesses and makes me feel good.”
Nieves said each class was valuable, but the most important thing she achieved was having individuals at M&T Bank who believed in her and her cohort.
“It’s about relationships,” she said.
“Relationships with people who believe in you, trust you to work with them, and know you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do.
“And since M&T got here, they’ve really shown that they put their money where their mouth is.”
Although she did not win, Nieves said lessons learned from M&T Bank’s program would be key moving forward.
“This course really helped me refine my message,” Nieves said. “I changed the way I present my business in every class through 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 businesses are very important to our bank,” he said. “This is the beginning of building communities.”
Micalizzi said the program is one of many that M&T Bank offers for small businesses.
He pointed to 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 very hardworking people who can’t always afford to do marketing and advertising,” he said.
“It was very successful in highlighting a small business client and giving them visibility that they themselves sometimes could not afford.”
Micalizzi said M&T Bank will continue to help small businesses through programs such as the Multicultural Small Business Lab.
“We believe they are the economic engine of success,” he said.
“When it comes to the economy and jobs, it really starts with small businesses.”