Why a venture capitalist company distributed millions in Columbus CARES Act funds

NBC4 Investigates

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The City of Columbus and Franklin County used a private entity to distribute roughly $10 million in public funds.

NBC4 Investigates is tracking $157 million in taxpayer money, the amount the City of Columbus received after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed last March.

According to spending records, Columbus made a $4.3 million lump sum payment in July to Rev1 Ventures, followed by a $3.3 million payment in August.

Mike Stevens, director of Columbus’ Department of Development, said the public-private partnership was crucial in getting pandemic relief money to small businesses as quickly as possible.

“What we did is, instead of writing 900 different checks for small businesses, we wrote one check to — well, not one check, but we funded Rev 1,” Stevens said.

Rev1 operates as a non-profit that funds small startup businesses in the Columbus area. In addition to the money from the city, Franklin County and JPMorgan Chase allocated roughly $3 million to Rev1, tasking the company with distributing the funds as grants to small businesses.

“We served as fund administrator and also helped to facilitate the decision committee that would review the applications make matches between those businesses that were interested in applying, connecting them to local entrepreneurs, support organizations, and just really facilitating the process and making it happen quickly,” said Kristy Campbell, Rev1’s Chief Operating Offer.

Campbell said she and her team kept meticulous records on the spending.

“We provided, on a daily basis, the process, who was in the process, who was being considered for funding,” Campbell said. “On a weekly basis, we provided the list of companies that were approved, where we were in the check cutting process.”

Rev1 provided recovery grants of up to $10,000, and grants of up to $5,000 for personal protective equipment. According to Campbell, the company provided more than 1,000 grants to 986 businesses with 25 or fewer employees that lost revenue due the COVID-19 pandemic.

Campbell said the committee that selected grant recipients focused particularly on female and minority-owned businesses, and those with five or fewer employees.

According to data provided by Campbell, 77 percent of the grants went to minority-owned businesses, the majority of which are Black-owned. Forty-four percent of the businesses that received grants are owned by women.

“Frankly, when you look at the types of funding that was available to the Main Street, small businesses, especially those that were underserved, that funding was just not getting to them,” Campbell said.

The City of Columbus provided NBC4 Investigates with a list of 723 businesses that received grants from Rev1 with CARES money provided by the city. The list included a wide range of businesses, from cafès to law firms to beauty salons and cleaning companies.

Comfort Witcher is a wedding photographer. As the sole proprietor of her business, Comfort Photography, she didn’t qualify for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Plan.

“I think when you go into the wedding industry, think it’s going to be secure,” she said. “You think people are always getting married, and then you don’t imagine a pandemic.”

Witcher said applying for the grant was “seamless, from beginning to end.”

She used some of the grant money to purchase new camera equipment, which helped her transition to personal brand imaging and keep her business afloat.

“It made it so that I, you know, wasn’t worried about paying bills,” Witcher said. “I was able to use it to actually, you know, build my business, so it definitely was very useful. And I’m thankful for it.”

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