Santander Bank is looking for applications from Trenton, New Jersey’s food entrepreneurs by Thursday, March 4th at 11:59 p.m. for its signature philanthropic small business initiative called Cultivate Small Business. Along with its program partners, Babson College, CommonWealth Kitchen, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (“ICIC”) and the Latin American Economic Development Association (“LAEDA”), Santander Bank’s 12-week Cultivate Small Business program fosters small business ownership in underserved neighborhoods and empowers women, minority and immigrant-owned businesses to take their businesses to the next level.

The initiative is designed to connect early-stage entrepreneurs with some of the key ingredients needed to succeed in the food business, including industry-specific business management skills, technical assistance, small capital grants, and access to a local network of established food-industry experts.

Ideally, participants should have at least one year of experience operating their business prior to the application date. Throughout the 12-week program, most weeks include two live sessions that will be held virtually and taught by Babson College professors with engaging topics including: Shaping, evaluating, and testing growth opportunities; Customer personas and value propositions; Competitive analysis; and Financial statements and cash flow. Topics also include Capital access, including a panel discussion with Santander Bank representatives and past participants; Legal issues; Financial forecasting and projections; Target marketing and communications strategy; and Pitching.

Program participants receive three hours of mentoring over three sessions. They identify challenges and goals at the start of the program and work with their mentors to address them. In addition to these sessions, the mentors are a resource throughout the program. Participants also receive three hours of coaching from a Santander Bank representative.

Upon completion of the program and submitting a business plan, each business is eligible for a grant of up to $2,500 from Santander Bank. Six months after the program concludes, participants are asked to submit an implementation report stemming from their business plan. Those who complete the report are eligible to apply for a grant up to $10,000 from Santander Bank.

Food-related businesses were chosen for the pilot program and continue to be a focus due to the diversity, size and number of small businesses within the category. ICIC research shows that when cities have “clusters” of related industries, their economies are associated with greater growth in business numbers, job creation, wages and innovation. While the coursework and knowledge imparted could be relevant to non-food businesses, they believe there is value in the interaction between business owners in a specific industry. The program has seen participating entrepreneurs find opportunities to support their peers by stocking each other’s products and sharing industry-specific experiences that inspire one another.

“It’s just so nice being in an environment where people understand what you’re going through because the outside world really doesn’t,” said Mona Ahmad, Owner of Mona’s Curryations and Cohort 2 Alumnus. “Just to talk about things — to look at all the different aspects, to connect with people who have been doing this for a number of years, and to learn the lessons they have learned has been amazing.”

Cultivate Small Business recognizes the important role entrepreneurs play in creating jobs and strengthening the communities where they do business. By focusing on women, minority and immigrant-owned businesses, they’re looking to help entrepreneurs who traditionally lack the necessary resources to grow their businesses with the skills and guidance to take their companies to the next level.

The application deadline is 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, March 4. Click here to apply.