(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) today introduced legislation to invest in underserved innovators. The Ushering Progress by Leveraging Innovation and Future Technology (UPLIFT) Act of 2019 will foster innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems in underserved communities by providing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), minority serving institutions (MSIs), and community colleges with the resources to establish and expand incubators and accelerators for underserved entrepreneurs.

The bill would create an Innovation Centers Program within the Small Business Administration (SBA) to award competitive cooperative agreements worth as much as $400,000 annually to institutions that support underserved and low-income communities.

“The success of the Bowie Business Innovation Center is proof that accelerators and incubators empower underserved entrepreneurs and innovators to build and grow successful businesses,” Ranking Member Cardin said. “The UPLIFT Act builds on the demonstrated success of the Bowie BIC by creating a new program at SBA that will partner with HBCUs, MSIs, and community colleges to spur innovation ecosystems in underserved communities.”

“Students in our Entrepreneurship Academy, and others, will benefit from this legislation that recognizes the critical shortfall of venture capital and business network creation that must be addressed for our young students to leverage their energy and innovation into sustainable business models that can take root in our communities,” said Dr. Aminta H. Breaux, president of Bowie State University. “I commend Senator Cardin for his foresight to sponsor legislation to establish a new Innovation Centers Program within the Small Business Administration to spur a new wave of entrepreneurship and small business creation at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”

“The UPLIFT Act would provide the entrepreneurial and financial resources to tackle head-on the challenge of building  strong and resilient businesses in underserved entrepreneurial communities,” said  Lisa S. Smith, Executive Director of the Bowie Business Innovation Center. “The legislation’s support for existing business accelerators that focus on underserved entrepreneurs will help expand and accelerate business innovation, as well as successful business outcomes in job generation and increased revenue in these communities.”  

Cardin unveiled the legislation this morning during a roundtable discussion at the Bowie Business Innovation Center at Bowie State University—the only business accelerator in Maryland located at an HBCU.

Bowie State University President Dr. Aminta Breaux (L); Senator Ben Cardin (Center); Bowie BIC Executive Director Lisa S. Smith (R) 

Historically, small business investment in this country has been uneven, more so for innovative businesses with high-growth potential. For example, less than 1 percent of all venture capital goes to rural businesses; around 2 percent goes to women-owned businesses; and only 1 percent goes to black- and Hispanic-owned businesses.

Incubators, accelerators and other small business innovation models have a demonstrated track record of helping businesses reach their potential by providing intensive mentorship, networking opportunities and access to capital. This year alone, companies in the Bowie BIC’s accelerator programs have created more than 500 jobs and have been awarded more than $41 million in new contracts.

The Innovation Centers Program would:

  • prioritize inclusivity in innovation to ensure that groups currently underrepresented in high-growth industries get the support they need to be successful;
  • establish new entrepreneurship ecosystems by using HBCUs, MSIs, and community colleges, which are critical to reaching minority, low-income, and rural populations, to foster entrepreneurship in their communities;
  • expand SBA’s reach to the entrepreneurs who need its services the most; and
  • enhance outcomes for underserved business owners by creating incubators, accelerators, and other small business innovation-focused models that have a demonstrated history of helping businesses become successful. The models will combine unique and intensive mentorship, networking, and sometimes funding opportunities to fill a gap in SBA’s current programming.
The bill has been endorsed by nearly 20 organizations, including Small Business Majority, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, the Small Business Technology Council, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and the International Business Innovation Association.