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 $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. 

2020 Small Business Challenge Awardees

Several projects have already been implemented and others will be finalized by May 2020. 

The following business groups and business associations were selected as the 2020 Small Business Challenge grant recipients:

  • The Central Square Business Improvement District used funding to install seasonal light pole banners that celebrate Central Square businesses. The installation of the banners coincided with the City’s Small Business Saturday celebration to encourage patrons to shop local during the holiday season.

  • The East Cambridge Business Association will use funding to enhance their website to better highlight their district and members. Funding will also support their social media efforts and use of new, professional photos of Inman and East Cambridge.

  • The Harvard Square Business Association will use funding to install new light pole banners promoting the Winter Carnival in January.

  • The Kendall Square Association will use funding for website updates that better showcase the events and activities of their business members. The website will also offer new features to make it easier for users to connect with Kendall Square area businesses for event space and/or catering.

  • The businesses of block 2200 North Mass Ave. (NOCA) used funding to install seasonal decorations in their commercial area. Grant funding also supported the branding and marketing for the NOCA Holiday Stroll, a new holiday event that increases the area’s placemaking efforts.

  • The businesses of Observatory Hill (at the intersection of Huron and Concord Ave.) used funding to expand placemaking efforts by installing holiday decorations including planters and festive lights.

  • The businesses in the South of Porter Square area used funding to purchase and install decorative lighting for current and future holiday seasons.

Learn about past projects

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 Fiscal Year 2020 application period has closed and completed applications have been evaluated by the internal Small Business Challenge Review Committee. Awardees were notified of their award by October 28, 2019 and had until December 1, 2019 to confirm, in writing, acceptance of their award. 

Awardees are prepared to implement plans no later than March 2020. Projects must be fully paid for by June 1st  2020 to qualify for reimbursement before the end of the Fiscal Year (June 30 2020). CDD staff will work with awardees one-on-one to establish bench marks to ensure grant projects are realized and on track for completion. Grant funds will be awarded upon project completion and submission of evaluation plan results.

Application Form

The Fiscal Year 2020 application period has closed but applicants interested in applying to future rounds may still view this year's 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 or at 617/349-4601