Students found Project4Prosperity to support minority-owned small businesses during pandemic

Friday, October 16, 2020 - 12:58pm

Project4Prosperity is an organization that provides financial support to minority-owned businesses.

Project4Prosperity is an organization that provides financial support to minority-owned businesses. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Sammi Sannieniola

LSA sophomore Sammi Sannieniola is the chief operating officer for the new nonprofit Project4Prosperity, an organization founded in July that provides financial support to minority-owned businesses. Sannieniola and Evan Goldman, a high school senior who serves as founder and executive director, are both Washington D.C., Metropolitan Area natives and wanted to do something to help those in underserved communities. They were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and its resurgence this summer.

“I felt like I needed to do something,” Goldman said. “And actually do something. I think it’s good that a lot of people have awareness right now, but I think you need to act on the awareness … I mean posting on social media is good, but you need to start something.”

P4P’s goal is to raise about $25,000 to distribute to five to eight small minority-owned businesses in the D.C. area. So far, they have raised more than $10,000 and have received 18 applications. The group fundraises through social media campaigns and by selling merchandise on its website. 

During the pandemic, many local businesses, already operating in the red, were forced to close their doors. Paycheck Protection Program loans were supposed to help ease some economic pressure, but according to one survey, only 10 percent of minority-owned businesses received the funding they requested.

“Think all the way back to slavery — if you think back to Jim Crow, if you think back to even now with police brutality, the fact just remains that people of color, people who are African American, have been overlooked by our justice and economic system,” Sannieniola said. “I’m thinking of how I can help people who look like me who may not have the opportunities that other people had.”

When Sannieniola first started scouting for businesses that might need a grant, he said he didn’t know what to expect. As he met more people, he started to understand the reliance of the local community on small businesses. 

“It’s just amazing how the community is so connected to these establishments and it would be a shame to see any of these establishments have to close down,” Sannieniola said. 

One business is FishScale in D.C., a restaurant that opened in 2017. The restaurant’s director of operations, Kristal Williams, applied for a Project4Prospertity grant after one of their customers suggested it. 

The transition from a traditional dining experience to a socially-distanced one was particularly hard for FishScale. Most of their revenue came from nearby businesses, but when those closed, they saw a 90% decrease in profits. FishScale was not well-established online and the pandemic forced them to partner with more delivery services. Though business has been improving since the initial drop, FishScale lacks the cash cushion that they previously had because of the loss in revenue. 

“The commission rates for UberEats and Caviar and Grubhub are close to 30%,” Williams said. “So now I’m in a situation where yes, I am potentially able to keep my doors open, I’m able to maintain my mental health because we’re doing what we love to do — which is to provide people with great-tasting food — (but) that was a major cut into our profits.”

If FishScale does receive the grant, Williams said she has a plan for the money. She would like to install Plexiglass in the restaurant to protect staff, purchase kitchen equipment, improve their website and install a permanent wheelchair ramp at the front entrance. 

Williams believes there is a great need for what the P4P team is doing. Sannieniola said he hopes to complete their D.C. project by Thanksgiving, after which P4P will turn its attention to a different city in need.

Daily News Contributor Safura Syed can be reached at safura@umich.edu.


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