Program helps owners ‘take the helm’ of struggling small businesses

SAN ANTONIO – Small business owners in San Antonio struggling to stay afloat are being urged to “take the helm” as they navigate turbulent financial waters during the pandemic.

“Every day is a new strategy. Every day we never know what tomorrow is going to be,” said Arthur Perez, co-owner of Cadeaux, a gift shop downtown.

Perez and co-owner Doris Pitts are among those who have until March 15 to apply for HELM, a new program created by financial services giant USAA and LiftFund, a community-based lender.

“It offers mentoring and coaching and financing and relationship with the community,” Pitts said.

HELM also offers up to $50,000 in low-interest loans as working capital, along with human capital in the form of expert advice, educational courses and mentoring.

But Janie Barrera, president and CEO of LiftFund, said HELM also tailors its approach depending on what the business owner thinks will be most beneficial.

“Technical assistance only, cash only, or both,” Barrera said.

A spokeswoman for LiftFund also said, “We encourage all small, minority and veteran business owners to apply.”

But the $2 million grant from USAA was part of a three-year, $50 million philanthropic effort to advance racial equality, said Justin Schmitt, assistant vice president for USAA corporate responsibility.

Schmitt said research has shown that “education and employment are some of the biggest areas of disadvantage for African-Americans and people of color.”

He said USAA came to LiftFund because of its nearly 30-year history of helping underserved communities.

“They will be providing meaningful support to small businesses that are the backbone of our community, many of which are minority-owned,” Schmitt said.

Perez said their gift shop has adapted by boosting its online and social media presence, free local shipping and delivery, even curb service.

He said given the lack of parking, Cadeaux now offers valet service.

“I’m the valet guy. So they walk in, they shop, I valet their car upstairs, and then I bring it back down,” Perez said.

Pitts said she’s eager to know if she and Perez are accepted into the program.

“I think that will give us tools and ideas, fresh ideas, so that we can continue to thrive and keep our doors open,” Pitts said.

About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.