According to the US Department of Commerce, 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States. Rhode Island small business owners interested in tapping this growing market can get financial assistance to do so through the John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University.
For the 10th year in a row, the Chafee Center was awarded the SBA’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grant, which awards Rhode Island small businesses money for both new and continuing overseas expansion. Grants between $5,000 - $10,000 are available and companies can apply up to 15 times per grant cycle up to a maximum of $30,000. In other words, businesses can return to the well for funding to offset costs in various areas such as international marketing, website development for global markets, or international compliance testing.
The Chafee Center, working in partnership with Commerce RI, leads the state’s trade and export activities. In this role, the Center has applied for and been awarded the STEP grant 10 times. Between the monies granted in 2021 and the latest allocation, the Chafee Center has more than $500,000 on hand to assist Rhode Island small businesses in gaining a new foothold, or expanding their existing one, in other countries. In addition to the financing, the Center provides strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs achieve their international goals.
Grant applications are accepted on a rolling basis. In the previous cycle, 72 awards were given out, with the recipients reporting an additional $1.8 million in export sales as a direct result of the grants; these companies project their export sales revenue to climb upwards of $10 million due to the funding. Before the pandemic, 148 awards netted recipients an additional $4.2 million in export sales. “This grant works,” says Andrew Gelfuso, director of the John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University and STEP Project director.
Exports are big business for the smallest state, with $2.4 billion in goods exported to other countries, which translates to 8,000 jobs here at home. “Having the resources such as Bryant faculty and staff and deep relationships in place with Commerce RI, the SBA, the US Department of Commerce, and throughout Rhode Island’s small business community make the Chafee Center an ideal hub for this kind of innovation,” says Gelfuso. “It’s a natural place for the STEP grant to reside and we are proud to administer this money to help Rhode Island small businesses grow.”
About the STEP program
STEP is a national export initiative that makes matching‐fund awards to states to assist small businesses expanding into global markets. Administered by the SBA Office of International Trade, the STEP grant objectives are to increase the number of small businesses that export, help companies expand into new international markets and increase the value of U.S. exports.
The STEP grant complements the SBA’s Export Loan Programs, which can help finance the working capital needed to complete export orders as well as the expansion of production facilities as export demand increases.
About the Chafee Center
The John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University is a resource for students, businesses, organizations, and individuals interested in global trade. Named for the late U.S. senator from Rhode Island — a long-time advocate of international trade and the benefits of introducing new markets to our nation's businesses — the Center’s mission is to foster world trade through collaboration with the University’s academic programs, partnerships with state and federal entities, and outreach to the business community.