Mercado on 5th assists businesses with Back to Business grant process


Mercado on 5th is expanding its outreach to minority entrepreneurs by providing assistance with the State of Illinois’ new Back to Business (B2B) grant program as well as launching a new Small Business Workshop series with U.S. Bank.

Mercado, known for its popular weekly outdoor marketplace in Moline’s Floreciente neighborhood, works with minority business owners to help them start and grow their businesses. The four-year-old nonprofit now has been designated as a Small Business Community Navigator in the State of Illinois.

As a Community Navigator, Mercado will provide support for small businesses – targeting underserved businesses including minority, rural, veteran and women-owned businesses. Trained Mercado staff will work to reduce the barriers these businesses often face when trying to access relief program dollars.


“The purpose of the Community Navigators is to reach people who need the most assistance – we’re the boots on the ground and we have trustworthy messengers,” said Anamaria Rocha, Mercado’s Director. “We help English and Spanish-speaking businesses who might not have the technical skills to apply for a grant, may have language barriers or do not understand the application process.”

Mercado, which had to apply to become a spoke under the Community Navigator Program, partnered with the Illinois Public Health Association as its grant lead or hub along with sixteen other spokes for a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) to provide the technical assistance. DCEO has invested $9 million in support of the Community Navigators. The consortium Mercado is a part of, received $1.5 million. 

The grant enabled Mercado to promote its administrative coordinator, Montse Lopez, from part-time to full-time and hire two new staff: Greg Aguilar, Community Navigator program manager, and Susana Aguilar (no relation), Community Navigator consultant. Mercado’s staff also includes Enrique Sandoval, operations assistant. 


The Community Navigator program is a hub and spoke model with more than 100 community organizations across Illinois engaged as navigators. The Mercado is able to provide services across Rock Island, Mercer and Henry counties. In addition to the B2B economic recovery grant program, Community Navigators can assist businesses in applying for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, Shuttered Venues Operators’ Grants, Restaurant Revitalization Grants, and traditional SBA loans.


As part of Governor JB Pritzker’s overall economic recovery strategy, the $250 million B2B grant program aims to deploy small businesses recovery grants for those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding is available to all small businesses across the state.


“We want people to understand we are here to help,” Rocha said. “We can assist with the application process on the front end and also have portal access to assist people with any follow-up steps needed to determine eligibility or to process awards on the back end.” To date, Mercado has helped 21 locally-owned minority businesses and one non-profit agency apply for the B2B grant.


Grant details

  •       To be eligible, small businesses must have had 2019 revenues of $20 million or less and can demonstrate a loss of revenues in 2020.
  •       Businesses can apply for grants ranging from $5,000 to $150,000 to cover operations/staff/overhead costs.
  •       Priority will be given for these businesses: Hardest hit industries – such as hotels, salons, fitness centers, restaurants, and more; Disproportionately Impacted Areas (DIAs) –  economically distressed communities which have had higher case counts of COVID-19; businesses who have yet to qualify for state or federal assistance, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), BIG, and more. 

Rocha said in the Quad Cities region, both Rock Island and Silvis have been designated as DIAs.

As a Community Navigator, Mercado meets twice weekly with DCEO and can follow up on clients’ grant applications. “We can make sure our clients’ applications are categorized appropriately and that they have the correct documentation,” she said, adding “It is to their advantage to apply directly through us.” 

The B2B application process opened Aug. 18 and the deadline to apply is October 11, 2021.


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