Small is Strong
In 2021, the Washington Trust commissioned a study to understand how local organizations in the Washington Main Street network currently support microenterprises and identify opportunities to strengthen this relationship. This study was made possible through a grant from the Washington State Microenterprise Association.
What is a microenterprise?
Across Washington State, microenterprises employ over 600,000 people and comprise 85% of businesses within the state. Microenterprises are businesses with five or fewer employees, $35,000 or less in startup costs, and limited access to traditional credit or capital.
Microenterprises play an important role in increasing equitable access to business ownership and offering opportunities for self-employment. Microentrepreneurs, or owners of microenterprises, are more likely than owners of larger businesses to be women or Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), and microenterprises can provide an essential career opportunity to people who have been formerly incarcerated. Microenterprises and microentrepreneurs also face specific challenges. Microenterprises are typically capacity-constrained due to their limited staffing and lack of access to traditional capital. As individuals, many microentrepreneurs face structural barriers associated with being owners who are women, BIPOC, or formerly incarcerated.
What can/does Main Street do to support them?
There is a need and an opportunity to help microenterprises through tailored supports that address the specific strengths, constraints, and challenges that are more common to microenterprises and microentrepreneurs. Such supports include credit-building, access to right-fit capital, connections to professional networks and culturally competent resources, wraparound supports, or a trauma-informed approach to programming. Microenterprises can also benefit from supports commonly provided to larger small businesses, and it is primarily in this capacity that Main Street organizations currently serve microenterprises.
In Washington State, Main Street organizations’ current level of support for microenterprises is significant: 40% of the Main Street Organizations surveyed for this study serve microenterprises in at least half of their interactions with businesses. Main Street organizations provide a range of supports to microenterprises, such as business startup workshops, storefront design services, or COVID-19 relief. Although these services are not designed to address the specific needs of microenterprises and while many Main Street organizations also provide these services to larger small businesses, microenterprises may benefit more than their slightly larger peers due to their added constraints and challenges.
A highlight of the report are the six case studies that showcase how Main Street organizations in Kent, Pasco, Ridgefield, Ellensburg, Chelan, and Mount Vernon use creative and culturally relevant strategies for supporting microenterprises in their community.
Funding provided by the Washington State Microenterprise Association (WSMA) thanks to a grant made possible by the Washington State Department of Commerce.