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M&T Bank to offer guidance, grants to multicultural small businesses

Chef Bobby Anderson (right) speaks outside M&T Bank's Bailey Avenue branch Oct. 6, 2021 as the bank unveiled its Multicultural Small Business Innovation Lab.
Tom Dinki
Chef Bobby Anderson (right) speaks outside M&T Bank's Bailey Avenue branch Oct. 6, 2021 as the bank unveiled its Multicultural Small Business Innovation Lab.

Chef Bobby Anderson is the CEO and founder of F BITES, a Buffalo nonprofit that offers low-priced meals, while training everyone from students to inmates for a culinary career.

But Anderson admits to being a bit naïve when first walking into M&T Bank’s gold dome bank in downtown Buffalo for a loan.

“I didn't realize you go to the gold dome last,” he said. “You go to other banks first to ask for money.”

M&T staff mentored Anderson, he said, and after several years, were able to help him grow his business.

“I have learned that no is just the start of the sale,” he said.

M&T officials say they want to do more for multicultural businesses like Anderson’s. Standing outside their Bailey and Kensington branch Wednesday, the Buffalo-based bank announced the start of their “Multicultural Small Business Innovation Lab.”

The six-week pilot program will help about 30 Black, Indigenous, Latinx, LGBTQ and other multicultural businesses learn how to create a business plan, establish credit and network. In-person classes will be hosted by Canisius College.

The program will conclude with a Shark Tank-style competition, in which three of the businesses will receive grants of up to $5,000.

David Femi, head of M&T’s Multicultural Banking and Community Affairs, said the idea came from conversations with Bailey Avenue small business owners.

“They will tell you firsthand, ‘We don't know how to network. Where do we go for networking? We don't know where to find resources? How do I find a resource to help me scale my business? I don't know how to build or write a business plan. Where do I go for that?”’ he said.

Multicultural businesses face plenty of roadblocks. Black-owned businesses are twice as likely to be turned down for a loan than white businesses, according to data from the U.S. Federal Reserve. Plus, a report by the Federal Reserve of New York last year found Black-owned businesses were almost twice as likely to fail during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For its part, M&T says it has invested over $2 million dollars to upgrade its East Side branches. It also reports receiving an outstanding rating on its Community Reinvestment Act exam, which grades banks on how they assist low and moderate-income borrowers.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said he’s seen M&T put in extra effort to help Black businesses.

“I know Black businesses that are operating right now in the city of Buffalo that got turned down by every banking institution in this community until they came to M&T,” he said. “And M&T figured out how to get it done and said yes.”

Femi said in order for Buffalo’s East Side to excel, its small businesses need to excel.

“When our small businesses do these things well, the communities begin to change,” he said. “We know for sure when our small businesses do our communities do well.”

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.