New grant program to help New Bedford’s North End small businesses improve their physical and digital presence

February 22, 2023 : The Herald News, Lurdes C. da Silva

NEW BEDFORD — If Adelsa Mendes has her way, more than 20 small businesses in New Bedford’s North End could soon improve their physical and digital presence thanks to a new grant program.

A dedicated advocate for small businesses with vast experience and knowledge in helping minority-owned businesses, the Cape Verdean immigrant has been visiting businesses along Acushnet Avenue - between Beetle and Davis streets - to introduce herself as the new Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) fellow for the district of New Bedford and encourage its owners to take advantage of the new TDI Local grant, which was designed to support storefront businesses and local market development.

“I’ve been connecting with the businesses door-to-door,” said Mendes, while visiting Girassol Restaurant on Feb. 16. “It’s all about building relationships, providing information about available opportunities, and engaging the community. In the end, it’s all about creating synergies because there’s great potential here.”

She said TDI Local grants are being made available through a partnership established last year between the City of New Bedford and MassDevelopment - the state’s development finance agency, which works with communities to stimulate economic growth within focused districts. They are being offered in collaboration with the Community Economic Development Center (CEDC).

“The total TDI Local grant amount is $110,000 and we expect to help a total of 24 businesses,” Mendes said.

She said $50,000 will be set aside for up to $5,000 assistance to help businesses with storefront and front-of-house items, such as window displays, signage, lighting and menu boards.

Another $40,000 will be awarded to help businesses develop their digital presence, and each business can receive up to $4,000. Of that amount, $1,500 would be used to produce multimedia materials for use on the web and social media, such as photos of inventory or menu items, short bio videos, and creation of content for a website.

An additional $1,500 would be available to support the development of a website and linked online ordering platform. The remaining $1,000 would be available to offset the fees for the business to join a food delivery service platform.

Another $20,000 will be available as a match of up to $5,000 to assist with up-front costs for startups that have either opened after Aug. 1, 2022 or are still in the process of securing a physical location in the TDI district.

“The maximum combined total grant award for small businesses successfully operating in the district for over one year is $9,000,” Mendes said. “The maximum matching grant amount for start-ups is $5,000.”

Why does Mendes feel a strong connection to the TDI district?

As a TDI fellow, Mendes is employed by MassDevelopment to provide on-the-ground economic development expertise and collaborative leadership in the district she represents and help TDI partnerships utilize an arrangement of tools to catalyze development, such as technical assistance, grants to support local market development, arts and cultural infrastructure, and more.

As someone who has been an advocate for immigrants and small business owners for more than a decade, Mendes said she relates to the many immigrant business owners in her TDI district and understands the challenges and struggles many are facing.

“I feel very connected to this district,” Mendes said. “It’s a perfect fit for me.”

Being multilingual and bicultural, she said it’s been easy to communicate with immigrant business owners because she can speak Portuguese, Cape Verdean Creole and Spanish.

Prior to taking this position, she worked as a Business Assistance Program Manager for the Brockton Redevelopment Authority. Before that, she spent nearly 10 years working as the coordinator of immigration affairs at the Consulate General of Cape Verde, and another two years as parent liaison for the Boston Public Schools, mostly working with Cape Verdean students.

She earned a Law degree from the University of Lisbon, with concentration in international business, trade and commerce. She spent some time working in a law office in Portugal before coming to the United States about 15 years ago.

“I am very passionate about finding resources for these business owners,” Mendes said. “In the end, this position is all about building a better community.”

Working with partners to stimulate economic growth

Mendes is working with several cross-sector partners to engage community members in planning and implementing local economic development initiatives.

Some of those partners include the New Bedford Economic Development Council, Waterfront Historic Area League, New Bedford Seaport Cultural District, Southcoast Chamber, New Bedford Historical Society, and the Immigrants’ Assistance Center, among others.

On her recent visit to Girassol Restaurant, Mendes was accompanied by Helena da Silva Hughes, the Immigrant’s Assistance Center president and CEO.

As part of this TDI Partnership, the center has been working with the group to provide information and technical assistance needed.

“I think we have over 30 businesses that have Portuguese owners in this [TDI] district,” Hughes said. “We have a key presence and we cannot be forgotten in this conversation.”

As a result, Hughes said it’s very important these businesses are not only aware of TDI grants, but make sure they take advantage of them.

“There’s money available to help these businesses, and we just want to make sure they are getting a piece of the pie,” Hughes said. “I think there’s been a lot of focus on the Spanish-speaking community, and we just don’t want anyone to be excluded. The Portuguese businesses have been around for a long time and they need to have a seat at the table and give their input.”

The application deadline for the TDI Local grant is March 10, 2023 at 11:59 p.m.

The application form and eligibility guidelines are available in several languages.

For more information about the TDI Local program or to request an application, contact the Immigrants’ Assistance Center at 508-996-8113. To learn more about the Transformative Development Initiative (TDI), visit