U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced legislation to invest in underserved innovators.

The Ushering Progress by Leveraging Innovation and Future Technology (UPLIFT) Act of 2019 will foster innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems in underserved communities by providing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (or HBCUs), such as Bowie State University; minority serving institutions; and community colleges with the resources to establish and expand incubators and accelerators for underserved entrepreneurs.

The bill would create an Innovation Centers Program within the Small Business Administration (SBA) to award competitive cooperative agreements worth as much as $400,000 annually to institutions that support underserved and low-income communities.

“Students in our Entrepreneurship Academy, and others, will benefit from this legislation that recognizes the critical shortfall of venture capital and business network creation that must be addressed for our young students to leverage their energy and innovation into sustainable business models that can take root in our communities,” said Aminta Breaux, president of Bowie State University.

“The success of the Bowie Business Innovation Center is proof that accelerators and incubators empower underserved entrepreneurs and innovators to build and grow successful businesses,” Cardin said. “The UPLIFT Act builds on the demonstrated success of the Bowie BIC by creating a new program at SBA that will partner with HBCUs, MSIs and community colleges to spur innovation ecosystems in underserved communities.”

Historically, small business investment in this country has been uneven, more so for innovative businesses with high-growth potential. For example, less than 1 percent of all venture capital goes to rural businesses; around 2 percent goes to women-owned businesses; and only 1 percent goes to black- and Hispanic-owned businesses.

This year alone, companies in the Bowie BIC’s accelerator programs have created more than 500 jobs and have been awarded more than $41 million in new contracts.

The Innovation Centers Program would:

  • Prioritize inclusivity in innovation to ensure that groups currently underrepresented in high-growth industries get the support they need to be successful;
  • Establish new entrepreneurship ecosystems by using HBCUs, MSIs, and community colleges, which are critical to reaching minority, low-income, and rural populations, to foster entrepreneurship in their communities;
  • Expand SBA’s reach to the entrepreneurs who need its services the most; and
  • Enhance outcomes for underserved business owners by creating incubators, accelerators, and other small business innovation-focused models that have a demonstrated history of helping businesses become successful. The models will combine unique and intensive mentorship, networking, and sometimes funding opportunities to fill a gap in SBA’s current programming.