UNI Creates Small Business Opportunity Toolbox for Urban Neighborhoods


ReNew Waterloo and the City of Waterloo



North Waterloo


Small business owners in urban areas often feel isolated from local economic development efforts. While vital to local economies, these businesses may be unknown or have schedules that do not allow them to access assistance or participate in many traditional networking opportunities that could be beneficial to their operations. Issues, challenges and opportunities facing these businesses often go unaddressed or owners fail to access support that may be readily available.





IDM and UNI’s Center for Business Growth and Innovation (CBGI) developed the Small Business Opportunity Toolbox (SBOX) to assist community and economic developers in doing retention and expansion programming. Two-person teams of volunteers, community leaders and economic development professionals conduct 10 to 15 minute visits with business owners. Teams thank each owner for their contributions to the local economy, e.g. jobs and tax base, and help the owner complete a questionnaire related to the area business climate, business challenges, employment trends, need for business training and interest in one-to-one counseling.


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The SBOX program was rolled out in North Waterloo with assistance from the City of Waterloo, ReNew Waterloo and the Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber. A core response team, together with UNI Entrepreneurship students and local neighborhood volunteers made 112 visits to local businesses, reaching 57 business owners. Fourteen businesses are moving forward with one-to-one counseling and the core response team met immediately to identify and connect the appropriate service provider to each business as well as to develop plans to address the common needs of the businesses in North Waterloo.