Small Business Challenge

flower baskets and flags

The Small Business Challenge (SBC) offers Cambridge businesses, business associations, and groups of neighborhood businesses the opportunity to secure one-time grant funds between $3,000 and $7,000 for well-designed projects that bring together neighborhood business interests around shared goals of improved design, promotion, and business resilience in a commercial area. 

Awards for the first round of funding were announced in November 2021. A second funding round will occur in spring 2022, with applications due February 21, 2022.

To apply for the spring 2022 funding round, please download a copy of the Small Business Challenge Application here.


Small Business Challenge Fall 2021 Awardees

  • Cambridge Local First will create a digital marketplace and host virtual walking tours to complement this year’s digital holiday shopping guide which promotes their Cambridge business members for the 2022 holiday season.
  • The Harvard Square Business Association will install new Adirondack chairs for public use in common areas around Harvard Square.
  • Businesses located on the 2200 block of North Mass Ave (Spindler Confections, Curio Spice, Urban Hearth, and Nussli 118) will install a large group sign to attract new customers and help destination shoppers.
  • The businesses of Observatory Hill (at the intersection of Huron and Concord Ave.) will host an expanded holiday shopping event that will have branded items and collective decorations.


Learn about past projects since the start of the Small Business Challenge in 2017.


Program Description

SBC 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, Cambridge Arts, other City departments, or the Cambridge Office of Tourism to create one-time promotional marketing materials or events around a shared vision for your business district.
  • Placemaking – Work with CDD's Economic Development staff and Cambridge Public Works to install decorative or interactive elements that emphasize the unique cultural or commercial assets of your business district.
  • Technology & Skill Training – Partner with local expert technology and/or skill trainers to build the skills of your businesses and/or local business associations, help increase sales, increase business efficiency, and/or develop online marketing and social media strategies.

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 projects 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 district to unify area with adjacent business district.
  • Temporary art, or decorative elements, installed in first floor windows of unoccupied or vacant commercial properties.
  • Interactive events (e.g. walking tours) that celebrate a collection of local businesses and engage residents and/or customers.
  • Re-designed websites to promote small business promotion efforts.

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).
  • A one-time pop-up retail component or additional innovation that complements 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.

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.


Application & Review Process

The Small Business Challenge  

The spring timeline is:

  • February 21, 2022 (5:00 PM): complete applications due to CDD staff
  • March 4, 2022: applicants notified of award
  • March, 18, 2022: earliest date that applicants can proceed with work


Applicants may apply for, and receive, funding in both rounds. Funds awarded cannot total more than $7,000 per applicant per year.


Application Form

The Fiscal Year 2022 application is open for the second funding round (spring 2022). To download a copy of the Small Business Challenge Application and Guidelines, click here.


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 or at 617/349-4601