Small Business Challenge

flower boxes

The Small Business Challenge Grant offers Cambridge businesses, business associations, and groups of neighborhood businesses the opportunity to secure one-time grant funds between $1,000 and $5,000 for well-designed projects that bring together neighborhood business interests around shared goals of improved design, promotion, and business resilience in a commercial area.

Learn about winning projects from the 2017 Small Business Challenge 

Download an application form

Program Description

The Challenge encourages applicants to develop innovative ways to invigorate their commercial areas and business districts. This could include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Neighborhood Tourism/Events Planning – Work with staff from CDD's Economic Development Division, Cambridge Office of Tourism, Cambridge Arts Council, or other city departments to create one-time promotional marketing materials or events around a shared common vision for the district.
  • Technology & Skill Training – Partner with local expert technology and/or skill trainers to build the skills of businesses, and/or local business associations, to help increase sales, increase business efficiency, and develop online marketing and social media strategies.
  • Research & Planning – Prepare for future district- or neighborhood-wide efforts (e.g. cooperative buying agreements, Business Improvement District formation, subsidized employee transit programs) by gathering information, conducting formal research, or enlisting the services of an expert. 

Projects conducted through the Challenge aim to bring a positive benefit to a given community in which businesses, residents, and visitors alike will benefit. The following past examples meet grant guidelines: 

  • Large, reusable banners for marketing or branding purposes.
  • Decorative and whimsical elements (e.g. streetscape planters) that help act as gateway identifiers to a unique business district.
  • Decorative flags installed along a busy business corridor.
  • Hanging flower baskets installed in a business to unify a business district to unify area with adjacent business district

The following examples would also meet grant guidelines:

  • Social media workshops or financial management trainings for business groups.
  • One-time marketing and promotional materials to boost a commercial area or new event (e.g. “swag bags” or branded items like T-shirts and hats).
  • Adding a one-time pop-up retail component or additional innovation to an existing, or established, event (e.g. a craft market at a movie night).
  • Launching a business-to-business network or business-to-resident network with targeted goals and an annual plan.
  • Conducting studies to learn about business needs, customer shopping habits, or transportation needs.

Grant awards are determined by the Small Business Challenge review committee, which takes into consideration the following factors: 1) Total project cost 2) Potential impact in community or given area 3) Lasting impact and sustainability of project 4) Feasibility of project and soundness of proposal 5) Ability for project to be replicated.

Deadlines & Review Process

A completed application that includes a signed application along with a full grant proposal narrative and supporting documentation (e.g. letters of support) as detailed on the last page of the application guidelines, is due December 22, 2017 at 5:00 PM (EST). Incomplete applications will not be reviewed.

Completed applications will be evaluated by a grant committee and awardees will be announced by January 15, 2018. Awardees will have until January 19, 2018 to confirm, in writing, acceptance of their award. Failure to confirm will result in a forfeiture.

Awardees should be prepared to implement plans no later than May 2018. Projects must be fully paid for by June 1, 2018. Economic Development staff will work with awardees one-on-one to establish benchmarks to ensure grant projects are realized and on track for completion. Grant funds will be awarded upon project completion.

For more information, please see the Small Business Challenge application form, which includes detailed guidelines, project examples, and a timeline for application submission and review. 

Application Form

To participate in the Small Business Challenge Grant applicants must review and complete the Small Business Challenge Grant application form.

For More Information

Visit the FAQs page for additional information.

If you have questions about the Small Business Challenge grant process, please contact Christina DiLisio at cdilisio@cambridgema.gov or at 617/349-4601