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  • Stamford coffee shop survives, then thrives, during pandemic with boost from women-owned business grant program

    STAMFORD, Conn. — Leyla Dam is just one proprietor of a women-owned enterprise in Connecticut who was able to pivot, survive, and then thrive during the pandemic — largely through the support of an innovative grant program administered by the Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC). Since the program’s launch in 2020, WBDC’s Equity Match Grant program — which offers grants of up to $10,000 to qualified women-owned small businesses in Connecticut — has awarded grants to 98 businesses, and counting.

    The grant program originated from the generous contributions of a number of private funders and received a significant boost from the State of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). Among the program’s funders is Bank of America, which has, to date, contributed $100,000 to support Connecticut’s women-owned businesses through this initiative.

    Among those grant recipients is Dam, who opened Lorca Coffee Bar on Bedford Street in Stamford ten years ago with a dream of bringing coffee and her beloved churros to the community. As of the beginning of 2020, she was operating a rapidly-growing business and had invested in significant renovations to nearly double the size of her coffee shop — all while several months pregnant.

    Read more about WBDC’s support of Leyla Dam and Lorca Coffee Bar

    Watch Monday’s event at Lorca Coffee Bar

    Just two weeks after Lorca Coffee Bar’s grand reopening, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Dam to temporarily close. Like most business owners, Dam shifted her focus to crisis management.

    “I had a new baby. My business was closed. I was exhausted, and the first place I called was WBDC,” Dam said. “They held my hand through applying for PPP, applying for a credit line at my bank — which I had never done before — and figuring out how to give myself a bunch of lifeboats. I was on the phone with them every single day. That was the level of their support.”

    Able to right her ship, Dam then took a hard look at her business model. Lorca Coffee Bar had set up curbside pickup, and began packaging and selling empanadas, paninis and cookies. Lorca Coffee Bar began bottling its specialty drinks, and even sold some household goods —  like toilet paper. As the weather warmed, Dam converted part of the coffee shop’s parking lot into a patio.

    While Lorca Coffee Bar had pivoted and adapted a more sustainable business model, challenges persisted. Dam said she lacked the equipment to keep up with demand — and that with only two panini presses, people were often waiting upwards of 20-30 minutes for a sandwich.

    That’s when she applied for — and received — support through WBDC’s Equity Match Grant program. The infusion of new capital allowed Dam to purchase a high speed oven.

    “It’s increased the amount of productivity in our kitchen also because of the time saved and allows us more time to bake more in-house goods which helps our profit margin and allows us to generate more sales,” she said.

    “Now we are selling at least a third more sandwiches, even compared with pre-pandemic. It’s been game-changing” Dam said. “And with the grant, I didn’t have to go into debt to improve our business or our products.”

    At present, Lorca Coffee Bar continues to thrive, and Dam is planning a new venture — a coffee house and art gallery — in Bridgeport.

    “I’m proud to have witnessed Leyla and Lorca Coffee Bar overcome some significant challenges and come out stronger on the other side — and it’s even more encouraging to know her story is not unique among these grant recipients,” said WBDC Founder and CEO Fran Pastore. “Of the nearly 100 women-owned businesses that have received these grants, nearly all have put these funds to work to grow their enterprises.”

    “Bank of America has had a longstanding focus on advancing women’s economic empowerment through innovative partnerships, including our support of WBDC for the past 25 years,” said Bill Tommins, President, Bank of America Southern Connecticut. “Amid recent unforeseen challenges and events, now more than ever we need to invest in Connecticut-based women entrepreneurs to drive economic growth, because when women-owned businesses thrive, our communities flourish.”

    In addition to intangible impacts to the state’s small women-owned businesses, the Equity Match Grant program has yielded significant quantifiable results. Since the program’s launch in Fall 2020, 98 grants have been awarded totaling $924K to small women-owned businesses in every county in the state. According to a recent survey of all Equity Match Grant recipients:

    • 60% of grant recipients increased revenues
    • 53% increased profits
    • 36% created jobs (85 net jobs across 36 companies)

    Those, like Dam, who received a grant in the first round (funded in November 2020) have had more time to see the impact of the grant on their businesses:

    • 82% of round 1 grant recipients increased revenues
    • 73% increased profits
    • 45% have created new jobs

    Additionally, according to the survey:

    • 49% report increased business productivity
    • 44% have increased their number of clients
    • 38% said they have increased confidence in applying for other funding opportunities
    • 27% report increased customer satisfaction.

    The latest round of applications closed in February, and grant awards from that round will be announced in April. The next round of applications is expected to open in May.

    About the Women’s Business Development Council

    The Women’s Business Development Council’s (WBDC) mission is to support economic prosperity for women and strengthen communities through entrepreneurial and financial education services that create and grow sustainable jobs and businesses across Connecticut. WBDC educates, motivates and empowers women to achieve economic independence and self-sufficiency. Since 1997, WBDC has educated and trained more than 18,000 clients—helping women to launch and scale over 6,500 businesses; create, and maintain over 8,750 jobs in Connecticut; and access more than $24.9 million in capital. WBDC is the only agency in Connecticut reflective of the statewide demographic makeup offering comprehensive micro-enterprise training, with services ranging from financial education, entrepreneurial development, and access to capital programs. Visit ctwbdc.org for more information.

    About Bank of America 

    At Bank of America, we’re guided by a common purpose to help make financial lives better, through the power of every connection. We’re delivering on this through responsible growth with a focus on our environmental, social and governance (ESG) leadership. ESG is embedded across our eight lines of business and reflects how we help fuel the global economy, build trust and credibility, and represent a company that people want to work for, invest in and do business with. It’s demonstrated in the inclusive and supportive workplace we create for our employees, the responsible products and services we offer our clients, and the impact we make around the world in helping local economies thrive. An important part of this work is forming strong partnerships with nonprofits and advocacy groups, such as community, consumer and environmental organizations, to bring together our collective networks and expertise to achieve greater impact. Learn more at about.bankofamerica.com, and connect with us on Twitter (@BofA_News).

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