Michelle Pluskota, Vice President of Business Services for Comcast’s Big South Region, watched with dismay as the 2020 pandemic wreaked havoc on businesses across the country. Pluskota knew that at the Comcast corporate level, programs were in development to alleviate some of the pressure caused by COVID, but she could not shake the feeling that she could do more for the small businesses in her region.
“This is a challenging time for any kind of business, but specifically for small businesses, to figure out how to survive,” she said. “So, I challenged my team to see what else we could do, and we came up with Together Towards Tomorrow.”
Together Towards Tomorrow is a campaign to support the small business community in Comcast’s Big South Region, which covers most of the southeastern United States, including Georgia. The region is one of the largest at Comcast and is headquartered in Gwinnett County.
As a part of the effort, Pluskota’s team worked with both the Gwinnett and Cobb Chambers of Commerce to award four $5,000 grants to small businesses that were heavily impacted by the pandemic.
The Chambers were already helping their respective county governments to leverage some of the CARES Act money and support local small businesses in need. In doing so, much of the assessment of potential recipients was already complete and Pluskota’s team was able to implement the campaign in just four weeks. Winners of the $5,000 grants included Gwinnett businesses The Good Manners, The Strategic Hub, Organized Chick and Revolution Teen Center as well as four others in Cobb announced in December 2020.
“We have great partnerships with the Chambers that we serve,” said Pluskota. “Their partnership made it easier to get money into businesses hands quickly and that was really what we were trying to do.”
The effort was so well-received in Gwinnett and Cobb Counties that Pluskota is working to implement it in other metropolitan areas in Comcast’s Big South Region, such as Nashville, Tenn. “I want to keep doing it until we all get through this,” she said.
Helping the community is not a new tactic at Comcast. The company has been involved in charitable efforts in Gwinnett for as long as it has been headquartered here, including long-term partnerships and recent efforts with Rainbow Village, the Boys & Girls Club, the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful and United Way of Greater Atlanta.
In addition to the Together Towards Tomorrow, Gwinnett small businesses have also benefited from the Comcast RISE initiative, which is a multi-year grant program meant to specifically serve Black-, Indigenous- and People-of-Color-owned small businesses that need extra help during the COVID pandemic. RISE, which stands for Representation, Investment, Strength and Empowerment, offers rolling quarterly awards that started in the fourth quarter of 2020 and is anticipated to continue. The program is part of a larger $100 million diversity, equity and inclusion initiative Comcast kicked off in the summer of 2020.
Each of the numerous winners of the quarterly Comcast RISE award receive a $10,000 grant or help from Comcast with either a technology makeover or marketing services. The first quarterly award included 77 businesses in the metro Atlanta area, including Gwinnett County’s Emsite Preventative Health Services and Nance Bookkeeping and Accounting. The second quarterly award winners will be announced in March. Applications for the third quarterly award are being accepted at www.comcastrise.com until May 7.
In addition to the Comcast RISE quarterly grants, Comcast recently announced the RISE Investment Fund. The Investment Fund will offer $10,000 monetary grants to 100 Atlanta area businesses owned by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color with less than 25 employees that have been in business for more than three years. The application period for the RISE Investment Fund ended March 14.
Though these rolling awards will help take some of the financial pressure off grant winners, Comcast is also dedicated to supporting all Atlanta area small businesses.
“We’re making investments in the ecosystem that supports these businesses,” said Andy Macke, Comcast Vice President of External Affairs. “Unfortunately, not everybody is going to get an award, but we also invest in the organizations that help businesses, particularly small businesses, grow.” Comcast is working with Gwinnett and other metro Atlanta Chambers of Commerce, the Atlanta Business League, the Minority Business Development Agency and the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“We want to help these companies persevere and survive not only during this time but afterwards as well,” said Pluskota. “It’s a long-term commitment.”