San Francisco Business Times, Salesforce doles out $3 million in SMB Covid-19 grants
Picture courtesy : Todd Johnson | San Francisco Business Times
Oakland attorney Jean Murrell Adams and San Francisco dentist Ivan Serdar faced dire times when their revenues came to a screeching halt in mid-March as the Covid-19 shelter-in-place lockdowns stole away their business.
Murrell Adams pivoted the business model for her 18-year-old law firm Adams Esq. and took a 20% reduction in hours along with her six employees to keep the business going, while Serdar cut his staff from seven employees, including himself, to five.
Both Bay Area businesses recently received some economic relief when they were named among the 300 small to midsize businesses (SMBs) to receive a $10,000 Salesforce Care Small Business Grant that’s designed to help companies weather the economic backlash from Covid-19 and adjust to the new normal.
Salesforce distributed a total of $3 million to SMBs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico and an additional $2 billion will be going to SMBs overseas. In the Bay Area, 55 SMBs received a Salesforce Care grant in the past week. Companies were able to apply for the grants beginning in late April, based on geography, and had one week to submit their applications when their window opened.
“We received more than 7,000 applications from the U.S. and Puerto Rico in just one week. We knew there would be a lot of applications based on the number of people who were signing up for notifications of when applications would be available,” Meredith Schmidt, executive vice president and general manager of Essentials and SMB for Salesforce, told me.
Salesforce teamed up with Ureeka to be its grant distribution partner and to vet applicants. Grant applicants also received access to free workshops and coaching on topics ranging from understanding financial options to building a pitch deck for potential investors.
“It was important to us not to just give money and walk away,” Schmidt said. “Our employees are providing mentoring and personalized support to grant recipients and we’re offering free Salesforce Essentials to them for a year.”
She added that SMBs did not have to be a Salesforce customer to apply for the grants and none of the grant recipients were the software giant’s customers when they were selected to receive a grant.
Given the success of the Covid-19 grants program, one may wonder if Salesforce will launch another round of grants.
“At this time, we have no plans for another round of grants,” Schmidt said. “At a company level, we have to evaluate what is going on around us right now. There is an overwhelming need to support SMBs and our focus is on black-owned businesses.”
Salesforce said 90% of the 300 SMB grant recipients were led by a person from an underrepresented group, including racial minorities, LGBTQ+, veterans and people with disabilities. The for-profit SMBs also had to have between two to 50 employees, annual revenue between $250,000 to $2 million and have been in business for at least two years.
In sifting through the thousands of applications, Covid-19 trends began to emerge regarding SMBS and the challenges they were facing. Companies from restaurants to bakeries developed new business models from offering virtual bartending classes to supplement their business to offering mini wedding packages as physical gatherings were curtailed.
Long-time law firm makes a pivot as Covid created havoc
“In California, we had zero cases in late March and our April caseload was down 80% from the year before,” said Murrell Adams, whose law firm specializes in representing special needs students when their parents, many of whom come from low to moderate income families, need to file a lawsuit against the school district. “April is usually our busiest month and every year we prepare for a surge in calls from parents who are concerned another school year will pass without their children showing sufficient progress.”
But with its revenues falling steeply, Murrell Adams told her staff of five that they would have to make the harsh decision of having to close its doors, or pivot the business and take a pay cut.
“I told them what I wanted to do and asked if they would support me. I told them there was a lot of uncertainty out there but that the parents we represented, particularly the low-income ones, would be impacted and we should be there for them,” Murrell Adams said. “I asked each staff member what they wanted to do, and one by one they said yes. It was very emotional.”
Adams Esq. pivoted its business model in late March to one that offers parents education on their children’s rights and how to advocate for them with the school district versus one that is more antagonistic and begins with calling a lawyer to file a lawsuit. The firm continues to charge its clients only $1 to advise and represent them and still receives its revenues from the school districts for advising the parents, or if they win in court should the issue escalate to a lawsuit.
“Rather than sue the school districts, we send the districts a letter and help the parents resolve their claims without a lawsuit. We resolve 90% of our cases now without involving the court system,” Murrell Adams said.
The business model pivot is showing promise. In May, the firm’s caseload was down 70%, an improvement of 10 points from April. Her firm also has partnerships with 20 attorneys in California and Nevada.
In addition to the Salesforce grant, the Adams law firm also received a PPP loan to sustain its operations. It covered the payroll for five employees and herself for about eight weeks.
Meanwhile, Serdar, whose dental practice was launched in 2001, also received a PPP loan and an SBA Economic Injury Disaster loan, in addition to the Salesforce grant. The three financial resources have given Serdar’s practice a critical cushion of $270,000.
“Our revenue took a big hit when shelter in place was enacted. Although we are considered an essential business, we could only do emergencies and not elective procedures. Only recently that has changed, yet our overhead remains high,” said Serdar.
Regulatory requirements that call for changing personal protective equipment (PPE) after every patient encounter have resulted in doubling Serdar’s PPE costs. He said those costs could have easily soared by three to four times more if the volume of PPE that he needed was available. With PPE going to hospitals and medical facilities, dentists are low on the list when it comes to getting supplies, Serdar said. As a result, masks that normally would cost 40 cents to 50 cents each can run $7 to $10 on the black market.
“I heard about the Salesforce grant through an email or a business owner in the city. I applied for it on a whim and am lucky I got it,” Serdar said. “I’m using it to support my payroll and the increased PPE costs.”
While Serdar is fortunate to have a sizable cushion to keep his practice open, he noted that the California Dental Association issued a warning that 25% of statewide dental offices may permanently close due to the economic hit from Covid-19.
“These sort of lifelines like the Salesforce grants are critical,” Serdar said.