Longtime Arlington residents who founded a Rosslyn-based online university are donating $50,000 to help local small businesses.
In 1998, Yanping Chen and J. Davidson Frame established the University of Management and Technology, a fully online school enrolling national and international students, located at 1901 Fort Myer Drive. Their $50,000 donation comes from the Chen Frame Foundation, which they started to support educational causes across the world.
But now, they are thinking closer to home.
“COVID-19 brought to mind that we’re not focused enough on our own backyard,” Frame said.
Arlington Economic Development will use the money to help pay for new initiatives, such as educational programming and online services, to help small businesses through the pandemic.
Together with a second round of Paycheck Protection Program funding, AED is expecting about $250,000 in new funding for its pandemic-focused programs, AED Director Telly Tucker said. The department will release more information on the new efforts the money will be funding in the next few weeks, he said.
Arlington County has about 6,000 enterprises that employ fewer than 50 people, which is AED’s definition of a small business, Tucker said.
Pre-pandemic, about three staff members from AED handled outreach to these small businesses. When businesses were forced to shut down or change their operations, the three-person staff was swamped with questions on everything from how to apply for federal assistance programs to how to set up temporary outdoor seating areas to how to keep employees safe.
“It was all hands on deck: We were working together to do what we could to support businesses,” Tucker said. “The overall takeaway for me was that there was no playbook for us to go by on how to navigate during a pandemic.”
But existing business owners were not the only ones with questions. Many who had lost their job or were furloughed saw the pandemic and their new-found extra time as an opportunity to pursue their goals of owning a business, and needed help getting started, he said.
“I ran the entrepreneurship program at George Washington University for several years,” Frame said. “All the time, people would come off the street and describe some new, really weird idea. They would pick my brain. I understand some of the challenges they face — they have lots of questions.”
After listening to business owners, AED came up with a list of efforts that could help, including retaining a few experts who could answer questions “on everything from finances to business-legal services,” Tucker said.
With the influx of cash, AED is also looking to launch an e-commerce platform for small-scale retail stores in the County, in addition to spending more on marketing campaigns to encourage people to shop local.
The County Board heard the news about the donation during its recessed meeting on Dec. 15. It is the first donation of its kind since the Board authorized County Manager Mark Schwartz this year to accept donations of $50,000 or less.
“I wanted to say a hearty thank you,” Schwartz said of the donation. “I hope that when the pandemic is over, I can meet both these [people] in person and give them the commendation that they deserve.”
Schwartz will ask the Board in January to appropriate the money.
Photo courtesy University of Management and Technology