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From Grants to Free Permits: 8 Ways San Francisco is Helping Small Businesses

From Grants to Free Permits: 8 Ways San Francisco is Helping Small Businesses

To honor the month dedicated to celebrating small businesses in the U.S., we’d like to share with you what San Francisco is doing to support over 100,000 small businesses that operate in the city. Small businesses are a vital component of the local economy, and make up more than 95% of all businesses in the area. In this post, we detail the various programs and initiatives that the city has implemented to bolster these businesses.

While we celebrate and support small businesses every day, Small Business Month is a great opportunity and reminder for us all to get out there and show small business owners how much they mean to our communities and San Francisco,” said Katy Tang, Executive Director of the Office of Small Business.    

Let’s have a look at 8 ways San Francisco is helping small businesses in the area:

📌 SF Shines: SF Shines is a program that provided free marketing and promotion services to small businesses in San Francisco, including social media promotion, photography, and design services. Its overarching objective was to cultivate lively and secure neighborhood commercial corridors and facilitate the growth of small businesses.

📌 Save Our Small Business Initiative (Proposition H): Proposition H aims to simplify the process for obtaining a business permit, introduce greater flexibility in zoning and business operations, bolster arts nonprofits, and promote livelier commercial corridors across San Francisco. It mandates that the time for obtaining a permit for allowed uses be shortened to 30 days, potentially saving small businesses several months in processing time and tens of thousands of dollars in associated costs.

Official resources said “Since the City began implementing Proposition H in January 2021, over 3,500 businesses have benefited from the program, which allows more commercial projects to be processed within a shorter time frame, in what’s known as ‘over-the-counter,’ when permits applications are processed immediately upon submission.

📌 Small Business Recovery Fund: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) created a Small Business Recovery Fund, which provides grants to eligible small businesses to help cover rent and employee salaries. 

The SF Small Business Recovery Loan Fund offers interest-free, flexible working capital loans that can be used for a variety of business expenses without restrictions for businesses that often lack access to affordable credit,” said Beth Bafford of Calvert Impact Capital, lead manager of the Fund. “This kind of access to credit and support from community lenders will help more San Francisco small businesses rebuild as the economy opens up. San Francisco is widely known as one of the leading centers of innovation in the nation and it is hoped that the SF Small Business Recovery Fund will serve as a model to other cities across the country.” 

📌 Small Business Recovery Act: Mayor Breed’s Small Business Recovery Act had three primary objectives: streamline the process for obtaining a business permit and foster arts and culture in San Francisco. This endeavor was of utmost significance to the city’s recuperation from the COVID-19 pandemic, as it enabled established businesses to thrive and attracted fresh commercial ventures to all corners of the city.

When introducing the Act, Sharky Laguana, President of the San Francisco Small Business Commission, said “This legislation will ensure that San Francisco is prepared to welcome new businesses city wide by making the process to establish a new small business less cumbersome and costly. Existing businesses will have more options to adapt their business models and to encourage more arts and culture in their spaces.” 

📌 The San Francisco Permit Center: The San Francisco Permit Center consolidates and simplifies crucial services for San Francisco’s residents and businesses, enabling them to enhance their homes and properties, to start and operate a business, and to organize community events with ease. In addition to providing access to 23 services, the Center features an onsite business center that furnishes notary services and offers printing, scanning, and copying facilities for architectural drawings.

Mayor Breed pointed out that “Since the start of this year, the Permit Center has served an average of 191 customers per day and provides on average 531 services daily.”

📌 A variety of grants and loans for small businesses: The San Francisco government allocated an initial amount of $10.9 million for its SF Relief Grants; $3 million for the Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund; $2.3 million for its Shared Spaces equity grants program; $1 million for small businesses that have been victims of property crime; $10 million in very low to zero-interest loans for small businesses through an initial investment in a partnership with the state-backed California Rebuilding Fund;  $32.6 million raised for the Give2SF Fund, of which more than $8 million has gone to small businesses; $8.5 million for the SF Hardship and Emergency Loan Program; $2.5 million for Resiliency Grants, providing up to $10,000 grants to over 300 small businesses; $1 million for Neighborhood Mini-Grants for over 300 businesses in underserved communities and for women-owned small businesses; and $6.3 million to support Black-owned businesses in San Francisco with the African American Small Business Revolving Loan Fund—the list goes on.

📌 Direct business recovery assistance: The city built on pandemic emergency financial assistance programs to provide direct business recovery assistance including grants and loans. The Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) offers consistent aid to small businesses, which includes helping them with applications for local, state, and federal relief funding, as well as providing over $83 million in grants and loans from local funds.

Based on San Francisco’s plan, “OEWD will pursue direct business assistance programs that support specific business types and under-represented businesses launching and expanding operations in Downtown.”  

📌 First Year Free Program: To support and reinvigorate San Francisco’s small businesses, the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Breed have launched the First Year Free program, an initiative that exempts eligible businesses from paying initial registration and license fees, first-year permit fees, and other relevant fees. The First Year Free Report pointed out that “from November 1st, 2021, to February 28th, 2022, 504 small business locations were enrolled in the First Year Free, and the City waived $76,857.01 in business registration, application, permit and license fees. Of the 504 enrolled businesses, 285 were new businesses, and 219 were new locations of existing businesses.” Thus far, official data shows that 3,727 businesses have already been enrolled in the city. 

San Francisco provides a multitude of opportunities, programs, and initiatives for small businesses in the area. We’ve only covered 8 of them so far. Would you like to explore more of the city’s efforts to recognize the value small businesses bring to local communities? We invite you to visit us again and learn about additional ways you can support small businesses in your city.


This blog was written by Gisela Montes, GovTech Community Lead at Glass.


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