Allison Kelly
Chief Executive Officer

Rapid Response: An Update on ICA’s COVID-19 Relief Efforts

As we surpass more than 100 days of sheltering in place, amidst troubling increases in coronaviruses cases in the Bay Area and across the US, we're taking a moment to reflect on what we’ve seen, learned, and done as we prepare for a long road to recovery.

What ICA saw

In early March, ICA first started hearing from our businesses that sales were decreasing dramatically as contracts were terminated and events cancelled due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus. On March 16th, six Bay Area counties announced “shelter in place” orders affecting over 6.7 million residents. Almost immediately, small businesses faced a massive liquidity crisis as revenues were eliminated virtually overnight.

The following weeks brought unprecedented challenges as small business owners tried to navigate a new world. In response, many small businesses demonstrated remarkable resilience – pivoting to develop new products, sales channels, and marketing strategies to preserve revenue, keep employees on the job, and reimagine business models to meet the new reality.

What ICA did

ICA’s mission is to accelerate great businesses. In this time of crisis, however, we realized that our first job was to help small businesses survive and stabilize, and then provide them the runway to react to the new set of operating constraints.

The most immediate threat to small businesses was a full-scale liquidity crisis. It was clear that federal help would take weeks to be deployed and would likely be insufficient to fill the need – especially because many of ICA’s companies lack the banking relationships necessary to access federal relief. The ICA team quickly pivoted by launching a new, targeted loan product and developing responsive crisis support our small business could access through virtual channels.


Today, as the pandemic endures amid sobering projections about its long-term impacts, ICA continues to actively engage with our network of companies to help them move from survival to growth.

Access to Capital: Rapid Response Fund
Shani Jones, Founder and Owner of Peaches Patties.

In the midst of an unprecedented economic disruption, ICA’s companies needed cash, plain and simple. With generous seed funding from JPMorgan Chase and Crankstart, and support from 10 additional funders, on March 20th ICA launched the Rapid Response Liquidity Fund to provide 0%-interest loans with near-immediate working capital to our network of Bay Area small businesses, predominantly owned by people of color and women. By providing access to fast, flexible capital, ICA helped our companies buy time in the short term until government relief funds became available and/or revenues recovered.

By bridging cash gaps, ICA’s loans helped businesses stabilize their operations, preserve local jobs, make investments to adapt and pivot their businesses (such as expanding online ordering capabilities), and position themselves for sustainable growth in the longer term.

Thanks to the incredible support from our community of donors, ICA has deployed $740,000 to 19 companies to date, primarily located in Oakland and the East Bay. Nearly 90% of these companies are led by entrepreneurs of color, including 45% Black entrepreneurs; 75% are led by women entrepreneurs. They collectively represent more than 120 jobs and generate nearly $12 million in revenues.

Access to Expert Advising

ICA knows that capital is only one part of the solution; coaching and connections are critical if we are to truly help our businesses succeed.

When the shelter-in-place order hit, ICA had just launched our most recent cohort of the ICA Accelerator. We quickly evaluated and adjusted content and delivery to remain relevant and virtually accessible to the six companies participating in the Accelerator. As it became clear that these companies faced disparate challenges and opportunities, ICA paused our structured, cohort-based Accelerator programming and shifted to providing individualized support for each entrepreneur.

In addition to our Accelerator programming, ICA is also launching our Resilience Lab Accelerator – a new offering made possible by sponsorship support from Kaiser Permanente. ICA will work with 20+ companies to deepen the resilience of their business models as they navigate the economic fallout of the pandemic. Businesses that are not accepted into the cohort will be able to access relevant content offered by ICA outside of the Accelerator, further expanding our programmatic reach.

Given the dire need of the small business community, ICA also expanded our capacity to provide individualized coaching and support to entrepreneurs. With the help of our advisor network – and critical funding from our community of donors – ICA has provided relevant, actionable support to more than 65 entrepreneurs in our network, including:

  • An online marketplace to promote and feature the products and services of many local companies in ICA’s network, with robust social media to drive traffic and sales
  • An HR webinar addressing employment concerns, liabilities, and how to take care of workers while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • An online meet-up of ICA entrepreneurs with an expert advisor to discuss business survival strategies and share specific business tactics for responding to the effects of the pandemic – such as staying connected to customers, offering special discounts, expanding into new markets, and redeploying staff.
  • Office Hours hosted by ICA’s program team to create more flexible opportunities for entrepreneurs to engage directly with our expert advisors to work through business challenges

Who ICA Helped

  • Cupcakin’ Bake Shop | Cupcakin’ Bake Shop is a Berkeley-based, Black woman-owned bakery, specializing in gourmet cupcakes and cakes. Founder and Owner, Lila Owens, was on the verge of opening her third location, which included a commissary kitchen, when the shutdown hit. As the reality of the pandemic set in and sales declined, Lila’s biggest concerns were to maintain Cupcakin’s 26 employees on the payroll, continue with plans to acquire two more bakery locations, and cover the start-up costs of re-branding and opening two new locations. Because Cupcakin’ was a recent graduate of our Accelerator, the ICA team immediately invited Lila to apply to the Relief Fund and she was soon approved for a loan. These funds helped Cupcakin’ quickly pivot to create a delivery service: Lila hired two part-time drivers, integrated a same-day delivery service, and leveraged their social media presence to drive delivery orders. Cupcakin’s revenues have been growing as Lila has successfully positioned her product as the perfect pandemic treat.
  • Peaches Patties | Peaches Patties is a San Francisco-based, Black woman-owned Jamaican food producer and caterer who also graduated from the ICA Accelerator in 2019. The ICA team reached out to invite owner, Shani Jones, to apply for Relief Fund funding, and quickly approved her loan. As the catering industry ground to a halt with the onset of shelter-in-place orders, ICA’s funding has helped Shani prioritize covering payroll for her four employees, shifting Peaches Patties’ catering focus to direct sales accounts, and managing the launch of a new packaged product line to be sold in local grocery stores and outlets. Peaches Patties has also been supporting local frontline workers and first responders by providing catered lunches.
  • Progeny Coffee | Progeny Coffee is a single origin coffee company, specializing in specialty Colombian coffee. As the economy slowed down, Progeny’s wholesale contracts with local tech companies disappeared, and the company’s shipments to the European Union were also halted. Owner Maria Palacio quickly moved to lower the company’s fixed costs and pivoted from wholesale to online sales – selling directly to the many tech workers who had previously enjoyed her coffee in the workplace – to create a new revenue stream. Also an Accelerator company, Progeny was approved for a loan from ICA to cover payroll costs, accounts payable, and rent. Based on her success, Maria plans to continue online sales even after lockdowns are lifted, and is re-purposing current employees to boost Progeny’s online sales function.
  • Reem's California | Reem’s California is a woman-owned Arab street corner bakery with two Bay Area locations. Reem Assil was a participant in ICA’s first Accelerator cohort in 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic came right on the heels of opening her second location in March. Reem quickly pivoted to use one location as a commissary kitchen and began providing catered meals, with non-profit partners, to essential workers and people in need around the Bay Area. The second location continues to provide take-out/delivery meals. With help from a loan from ICA, Reem has managed to retain most of her 30 employees and plans to continue providing these services through the end of the year to create revenue.

What’s Next?

Reem Assil, Founder and Owner of Reem's.

ICA’s team has learned a lot about the nature and impact of this pandemic since that second week in March. It’s as though a lifetime has passed, and yet we continue to be enveloped in uncertainty. But we know we can’t afford to just think day-to-day. Our Rapid Response was initially focused on addressing the immediate – and dire – needs of our companies. It is clear, however, that small businesses require a long-term recovery plan, and ICA is shifting our focus and response to ensure we stick with our companies for as long as it takes.

Our Relief Fund will continue to address the liquidity needs of ICA’s companies in the coming year. As loans begin to be repaid, starting in mid-2021, we will revolve and reinvest the capital to support our small businesses and fill the capital gaps that exist for job-creating small businesses, especially those run by people of color and women.

Why it matters

COVID-19 is exacerbating existing disparities in our communities and across the small business ecosystem. Those most vulnerable to the pandemic are the ones most affected by our systemic inequities. Frontline workers can’t work from home and small businesses can’t simply wait out the crisis.

It’s time to rebuild a more inclusive, resilient, economy.

ICA is here to help our companies survive in the short term, and be ready to thrive as the economy opens up down the road. Building resilience into the small business sector now and into the future is where we’re headed.

ICA’s entrepreneurs know that what you do/produce/sell is less important than why you do it. By focusing on the why – to provide jobs in our community, to bring their passion for cupcakes, or soul food or art preservation to their customers – these business owners are finding creative solutions to keep serving their communities and employing their workers.

ICA’s Donors Made It Possible

ICA is deeply grateful to our supporters for providing urgently needed funds to deploy to small businesses in need through our Rapid Response Liquidity Fund. ICA moved quickly because our funders recognized the urgency of the crisis – especially its impact on small businesses – and acted quickly to make a difference. ICA is thankful to partner with organizations that recognize the importance of small businesses as providers of critical products, services, and jobs in our communities. Together, we are pursuing our mission to accelerate great small businesses in these unprecedented times.

Thank you to our Rapid Relief Liquidity Fund supporters!