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. 

Download an application to the 2020 Small Business Challenge 

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

Applications for next round of Small Business Challenge grant funding in Fiscal Year 2020 are now open!

A completed application includes a signed application along with a full grant proposal narrative, a budget template, and supporting documentation as detailed in the program guidelines. Applications for the upcoming fiscal year are due September 27, 2019 at 5:00 PM (EST). Incomplete applications will not be reviewed.

Completed applications will be evaluated by the internal Small Business Challenge Review Committee and awardees will be notified by October 28, 2019.  Awardees will have until December 1, 2019 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 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.

A second round of applications will be considered for Spring 2020, pending availability of funds.

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