Hello Alice was founded to support small businesses by connecting them to resources they need. When crisis hit, its mission took on new urgency.
Humanity has a beautiful way of banding together in times of turmoil – the more fortunate helping the needy, the overworked, the disadvantaged. While it’s easy to get lost in the daily COVID-19 headlines and statistics, it’s important to recognize that there’s a lot of good going on in the world.
I’m proud to present Insperity’s new blog series, Good Business, showcasing companies that have adapted to meet the needs of this uncertain time and to give back to their communities. Let these stories be a beacon of compassion, hope and optimism that together we will persevere and work toward a brighter tomorrow. – Larry Shaffer, senior vice president of marketing and business development
Stella Victor’s small business was suddenly in trouble.
For five years, the Haitian American entrepreneur’s home
repair service, Fix My Repairs, has served Atlanta-area customers who need
plumbing, flooring and electrical work done on their homes and rental
Deemed an “essential” business at the outset of the COVID-19
pandemic, Fix My Repairs continued operating as the stay-at-home order
shuttered much of the city.
Then Victor’s company truck broke down.
It needed costly repairs, leaving her with no way to answer service calls. Without an immediate infusion of cash, the shut-in senior citizens Victor services might be without A/C or plumbing, and her business would be hampered.
We both saw the opportunity if more women got access to capital, loans, networks and mentorship.
Victor, like more than 50,000 small
businesses nationwide, turned to Hello Alice’s COVID-19 Business for All
Emergency Grant program. With the country shut down and her truck broken, she
submitted a request for $10,000.
Hello Alice is a social enterprise and virtual community that
helps business owners find networking, support and funding. Offering financial
assistance to companies struggling amid the pandemic is a natural extension of
their mission to foster small businesses – particularly people of color,
veterans, the LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities.
Connecting business owners to opportunities
At Hello Alice, the plan was always to support small businesses by connecting the owners with the resources they need.
When Peace Corps and U.N. veteran Elizabeth Gore first met
entrepreneur Carolyn Rodz 11 years ago, they bonded over their concern that
women were being shut out of business opportunities.
“I kept seeing women’s lack of access, whether in other
countries where maybe they couldn’t own land or back home where women are only
getting 2% of venture capital,” said Gore.
Rodz experienced firsthand the difference access to funding and support can make. “Her first company failed and her second was very successful, and it was really about access,” Gore said. “Same person, same knowledge. We both saw the opportunity if more women got access to capital, loans, networks and mentorship.”
In 2016, Gore and Rodz launched an all-virtual business
accelerator for women business owners around the world. Since its inception,
the accelerator has raised more than $65 million for participating startups.
Over time, Gore and Rodz expanded the
accelerator into what Hello Alice is today: a social enterprise that, with the
assistance of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, provides
resources and funding tailored to the specific needs of the small business owners
in their community.
Their Business for All grant initiative was the centerpiece of Hello Alice’s campaign to fund and support these small businesses.
Grand plans and a global disruption
Business for All was ready to roll out in early March 2020 with $250,000 in grant money for business owners who didn’t have other access to capital. Celebrities Gwyneth Paltrow, Kristen Bell and Pitbull – all known for their respective entrepreneurial pursuits – joined other business luminaries to mentor grant recipients.
For the launch, Hello Alice was prepared to make a splash in
Austin, at one of the world’s foremost networking events. “We put the largest
marketing investment we’ve ever done into South by Southwest (SXSW) … It was a
big bet for us,” Gore recalled
And then came COVID-19 and the unprecedented global
“The same thing happened to us that happened to every
business in America,” said Gore. Concerns about the spread of the new
coronavirus prompted officials to shut things down.
Meanwhile, the city of Austin’s decision to cancel SXSW was
a wake-up call for the business community.
“I watched our $280,000 build [for SXSW] get shredded. At
the same time, Hello Alice started getting inundated, not just by our existing
community of business owners, but hundreds of thousands of other business
owners asking, ‘What does this mean?’”
Amid the pandemic, Hello Alice, like many U.S. businesses,
faced layoffs and cutbacks.
“We lost quite a bit of cash in that first month, and we
know that cash is going to be tight the second half of the year.
Despite the setbacks, they focused on how Hello Alice could
be of service to their community.
A fast pivot to supporting small businesses in crisis
Gore and Rodz huddled with their board and investors to
decide how Hello Alice could help. “We already had the machine learning and the
code in place to match owners with resources. We would just have to make it
Within days, they built Hello Alice’s COVID-19 Business Resource Center
to provide information on local rules, SBA loans and other financial aid. With
special sections dedicated to Hispanic
and Latino business owners and military-connected
entrepreneurs, the online center is also a forum for Hello Alice’s online
community to share tips with others by location and industry.
Gore and Rodz started hosting multiple daily webinars to
help owners navigate the federal Paycheck Protection Program application
process. What they heard, over and over, was that the process was filled with
roadblocks for the smallest businesses.
“There’s just not enough funding out there for people right
now,” Gore said. Some of the people who need help “have great finances and they
need such a small amount of capital to keep going.”
This is an incredibly isolating time for business owners. You’re making the hardest decisions of your life stuck in your living room, possibly with your kids crawling all over you.
So, Hello Alice leveraged its Business for All grant program and started raising more funds to get cash to struggling businesses.
The COVID-19 Business for All Emergency Grant program launched with support from eBay, Verizon and Silicon Valley Bank. Within a few weeks, they’d received more than 50,000 vetted applications for $10,000 grants – including the one from Stella Victor.
Yes, Victor received funds to repair the Fix My Repairs
truck. It’s back on the job now, helping seniors and other clients in Atlanta
stay safe at home.
In addition to helping Victor, other grants have helped:
- A sleepwear business
in Los Angeles that’s pivoted to produce PPE for health care workers
- A string instrument
shop in El Paso that serves orchestra students and teachers
- A New York-based
restaurant that’s selling bento box takeout meals while its dining room is
To date, two rounds of grants have been awarded. The program
is still accepting applications, and Hello Alice is “fundraising like crazy” to
award more grants.
In it together
While crisis management and emergency
funding wasn’t Hello Alice’s intended
mission, the organization and its founders are uniquely positioned to have an
outsized impact on the small business community. By providing funding and
advice, Hello Alice is helping struggling businesses navigate this particularly
“I want to acknowledge that it’s not all inspiration, and
people are making tough decisions right now,” Gore said.
Many businesses have
been forced to create, in short-order, a whole new business plan.
“Where are your customers?” she asked, riddling off a
progression of thought many business owners must explore. “How are they going
to shop in the future? Where is there opportunity?”
All companies, large and small, have had to pivot to some
degree. The good news for small firms, Gore said, is that they can be nimble,
move faster and pick up new customers.
As business owners make these difficult choices, Gore wants
Hello Alice to serve as guide and liaison to a more prosperous tomorrow.
“This is an incredibly isolating time for business owners.
You’re making the hardest decisions of your life stuck in your living room,
possibly with your kids crawling all over you. We’re here to connect you with
other business owners and to help as much as we can.”
To read more stories about Insperity clients making a difference in their communities – like Hello Alice’s mission of supporting small businesses – please visit our Community Heroes page.