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(Image: Courtesy of Lenovo)

Lenovo Evolve Small program helps local businesses bounce back in tough times

As countless small businesses work to recover from the ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19, 10 businesses in Seattle are benefiting from recent funding through Lenovo Evolve Small, an initiative launched by global tech company Lenovo. The program is dedicated to providing relief of more than $1 million in grants to Black, Indigenous and People of Color-owned (BIPOC) small businesses across seven cities in North America.

In partnership with the national organization Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Lenovo collaborated locally with the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) to determine which businesses are most critically in need of help. Of the small businesses Lenovo has supported in Seattle thus far, 90% are Asian-owned and 10% multi-racial-owned, with 70% being woman-owned.

One small business, Tabletop Village, is a Pokémon training gym and collectibles shop situated in the heart of the Chinatown International District. Five years ago, owner Brian Myers found inspiration through his young son and his Ethnic Studies education to open this community-driven business for gamers, anime lovers and families. Myers has struggled to stay afloat, like so many, while not wanting to raise retail prices yet still aiming to provide joy and connect community members during these uncertain times.

"My business would be flourishing, and we would be able to have and pay more employees and be open more hours if there was no pandemic," he said. "Right now, we are forced to do a lot more pick-ups and online sales that require lots of hours packing and shipping. With limited capacity, we can only have very few people in to play games. The restrictions with social distancing make it hard to host tournaments, family days and all the other fun things we have built this store for."

John Bischof, executive director, North American Commercial Category at Lenovo, said small businesses have always been important to the company, its employees and its local communities.

"Lenovo recognizes that small businesses, and especially minority-owned businesses, were hit hard throughout the pandemic and need their surrounding communities to help them survive and thrive," he said. "Also, the pandemic highlighted the necessity of digital transformation to help small businesses pivot to meet shifting consumer behaviors, and Lenovo wants to provide small businesses consultative technology expertise when they need it most."

Evolve Small is rooted in three key pillars: aid, mentorship and community.

"Our goal is to provide small businesses the aid and mentorship that they need to thrive and ignite support from their surrounding communities," Bischof said. "Mentorship includes the Evolve Small Community Collective, which houses the combined expertise of Lenovo and its Evolve Small program partners to provide education and resources that small businesses seek."

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And community efforts include a partnership with the NFL's Carolina Panthers that provide giveaways to select businesses across the Carolinas, as well as social media partnerships with local influencers designed to recognize select small businesses across key cities— and award them with free technology solutions. In Minnesota, Lenovo is also featured in the latest season of "Small Business Revolution," providing custom tech makeovers to six Black-owned businesses.

To identify the businesses most in need of funding, Lenovo partnered with and relied on LISC's expertise to distribute the grants.

"Lenovo believes that small businesses are at the heart of our economic recovery and that minority-owned small businesses play an important role in uplifting and bringing our communities closer together," Bischof said. "The grant program that Lenovo leads in partnership with LISC is specifically designed to help the small businesses who have been impacted the most and help them thrive in this next year and beyond."

How can others pitch in, too? Lenovo has committed to contributing up to an additional $50,000 to the existing $1 million Evolve Small grant, adding $5 for every #EvolveSmall hashtag used on Instagram to call out and celebrate small businesses.