Count Me In, the national non-profit founded to help women entrepreneurs turn micro-businesses into million-dollar enterprises, is undergoing a revival in the wake of COVID-19.
Here’s what women business owners should know about the organization, its history, and the opportunities that are currently available.
Count Me In Revival
The organization originally launched back in 2000 to provide resources to existing women-owned businesses that needed help growing past the micro-business stage. Now, Count Me In is offering $250,000 in grants, including four $25,000 grants and 15 $10,000 grants.
How Count Me In Supports Women in Business
Entrepreneur, speaker, and author Nell Merlino founded the organization after noticing a gap in the market. She had already run a successful communications company and started the now-widely celebrated Take Our Daughters to Work Day. But she noted a lack of support for women business owners who had already passed the startup phase.
She said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends, “I had reached this point where I didn’t know what to do next, and I think a lot of us get there. Of the things I was seeing — and I think this continues today — there was a major focus on startups. Well, I had already started. So I wanted to know how to get to that next level.”
Through the initial research phase and start of Count Me In, Merlino noticed that many women around the world simply sustained micro-enterprises rather than growing their businesses. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with staying small, she felt that more opportunities and resources could help those who wanted to get to the next level.
Nell Merlino: “In this moment we have to help each other.”
So the organization started a series of contests and initiatives aimed at providing micro-loans to women-owned small businesses around the world. Through the years, Count Me In has supported women in a huge array of industries, from language translation services to companies that provide medical testing to patients in need.
And the organization even started a trend; It’s the same micro-lending model that organizations like Kiva now offer to entrepreneurs in developing markets.
Through the years, thousands of women participated in Count Me In’s contests and grant programs. And many of those women came back to speak at the virtual revival launch event this time around.
In fact, the relaunch initiative was made possible by a generous sponsor. They wanted to provide extra assistance knowing that so many small businesses struggle due to COVID-19.
Merlino says, “I think people recognize that in this moment we have to help each other. As business women we already knew that — it’s why a lot of us started our businesses in the first place. But I think that same creativity and sensibility that we have about our products and services has to be shared throughout the business world.”
How to Apply for Count Me In Grants
Applications for the current round of grants are open until July 8, and winners will be announced July 30. There’s a simple two-step process for applying. You can start on the website just by filling out a short form with your basic business information. Then you’ll receive a verification and application by email within 24 hours.
The grants do not require repayment. But Merlino and others involved in Count Me In think it’s important for participants to support others in their community — either through their business initiatives, charitable donations, volunteering, or social justice work.
She says, “The way we want you to pay it back is to pay it forward.”