Mesa launches new assistance for struggling businesses The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa launches new assistance for struggling businesses

Mesa launches new assistance for struggling businesses
Mesa
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By Jim Walsh
Tribune Staff Writer

The City of Mesa has partner with an organization that helps entrepreneurs and start-ups to help local businesses struggling in the pandemic.

HUUB, a new digital platform developed by Co+Hoots, will offer Mesa businesses an opportunity to improve their operations free of charge as an impetus for recovery from the recession.

Jaye O’Donnell, Mesa’s assistant economic development director, said the help is vital to the survival of businesses, even six-months into the COVID-19 pandemic crisis that began impacting Arizona and the city in mid-March, when the remaining Cactus League schedule was cancelled, schools were closed and many businesses were ordered closed..

“It’s not even close to normal,’’ she said. “Some of these businesses are operating at 10 percent of where they were’’ before the pandemic.

The digital platform will serve as a link to an array of more than 80 webinars intended to help businesses improve, not only through education but through access to consultants recruited by the city.

Business owners who enroll in the program will be able to use HUUB to scroll down a list of advisors in a variety of fields – from legal to accounting help – and to select them for one-on-one sessions that will be paid for by the city at a cost of $50 to $300 an hour.

“These advisors will be quite robust. These will be people with national business experience,’’ said Chelsea Smith of Co+Hoots, during Zoom kickoff launch for the program last week. “We’re trying to help you make transformative moves with your business.”

She said HUUB would then “report that back to the city’’ through surveys on the program.

Smith is part of a team of five people who will operate the platform, the latest facet of the Mesa Cares program launched with $90 million of federal pandemic relief money approved by Congress in March.

Many businesses were forced to close for as long as two months while others found themselves poorly equipped to compete in an increasingly digital-based marketplace.

So far, Mesa has awarded $4.5 million in grants to 515 businesses, in the Small Business Re-emergence Program, O’Donnell said.

The HUUB digital platform is part of the $2 million Technical Assistance Program, with the platform itself costing $135,000 and enough money available to serve up to 1,000 businesses through the network of consultants.

“I’m even more excited about the Technical Assistance Program, which I think will have a long-term impact on our businesses,’’ Mesa Mayor John Giles said. “It really sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. It’s free of charge to our Mesa businesses.’’

“We have some amazing experts, who will meet one-on-one with our businesses and tell them what they need to do to be resilient,’’ he said.

Co+Hoots, a major Phoenix co-working business that has been fostering entrepreneurship for a decade, developed the digital platform as part of a partnership with A New Leaf, a Mesa non-profit that applied for the grant.

Co+Hoots also is developing an entrepreneurship program through a planned expansion at Benedictine University’s downtown Mesa campus.

“They are having a big impact on the community without even having a physical presence yet at Benedictine,’’ Giles said.

Jenny Poon and Odeen Domingo, co-founders of Co+Hoots, explained the new HUUB platforms functions during the Zoom launch. Another introduction for businesses is planned on Tuesday, with the webinars scheduled to start Aug. 4-6.

“It’s another way for us to create an impact,’’ Domingo said. “We hope to bring this program to other cities as well.’’

The topics of webinars could include just about anything related to operations of businesses, including marketing and helping to develop a system to take payments over the internet.

“What we’re doing with the digital platform is to use it as a resource center to house all of the educational material,’’ said O’Donnell.

O’Donnell said 58 business owners already attended a webinar last week on “Maximizing Your Recovery Through Google,’’ which will eventually be stored on HUUB and available to registered businesses on demand.

“Maybe they will hear something in the webinar and want to implement it in their business,’’ she said.

The consultant would develop a customized plan to help the business improve and become more resilient, not only to withstand the challenges of COVID-19, but the inevitable ups and downs of the business cycle, O’Donnell said.

“It’s customized to Mesa and exclusive to Mesa businesses. I see so much potential for this,’’ she said.

All Mesa-based businesses qualify for the program, which is designed to have a broader reach than the previous Mesa Cares grants award to mostly small businesses.

Businesses need to file a W-9 tax form and provide one other form of identification, such as a utility bill, to prove they have a Mesa address to quality.

Applicants should apply online at MesaAz.gov/caresbiztechassist, or at mesa.joinhuub.com.

“We brought a lot of these partners together,’’ Poon said, including the Mesa Chamber of Commerce, Benedictine University, the Asian Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Northern Arizona University. “We brought it to one place so you won’t have to scour the internet.’’

She said businesses owners also will build a sense of community on HUUB, sharing ideas and insight on how to solve problems.

“We have tons of experience as business owners. We can lean on each other for that,’’ Poon said. ′

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