Nonprofits gain big-time bucks

San Francisco nonprofits that incubate small businesses are among the winners of thousands of dollars in grant support that will help keep them on track at a time when the economy is far from rosy.

Among the recipients of the $25,000 AT&T grants is the San Francisco-based Women’s Initiative for Self Employment, which boasts numerous success stories.

More than 1,600 small businesses have come out of or have grown with the help of the Women’s Initiative, which has been around since 1988 and focuses on helping high-potential, low-income women who dream of business ownership.

One client was living out of her car and homeless a year ago. She recently opened a new restaurant, Kuwa, in the burgeoning Old Oakland district across the Bay. The restaurant describes its cuisine as Caribbean-Southern fusion.

The Women’s Initiative, based in the Mission district, offers a 20-session training program in English or Spanish to enable participants to start or expand their businesses. Graduates run businesses like photography studios, catering companies and auto shops.

The organization will use the grant money to open more classes in San Jose and San Mateo with a focus on Hispanic women, who are the “fastest growing [group of] business owners in the country,” according to CEO Julie Castro Abrams.

The SoMa-based Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, which since 1985 has worked to empower and increase entrepreneurship among a socially and economically diverse group of clients in The City, also received one of the grants.

Initially, the center offered business-planning classes intended to help people with very low to moderate incomes start their own small companies. But the organization has grown, and in 2008 it launched programs in Daly City, San Rafael and Richmond.

In total, 10 California organizations that help minority female entrepreneurs received a share of $250,000 in grant support.

Many nonprofits have always lived hand-to-mouth, but with the pressures of the recession the need for grant support is more urgent than ever.

“I think we are just beginning to get into this area of downsizing and it will continue for the next three years as state government impacts come up,” said John Kilacky, program officer for arts and culture at the San Francisco Foundation, a network of philanthropists and civic leaders that channels millions of dollars annually to nonprofits in The City and surrounding region.

Many industries that have been helping fund nonprofit organizations have themselves gone out of business, Abrams said.

“The biggest thing is we have so many people coming to us now that we can’t help them all. We are working as hard as we can. It’s been tough,” she said.

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