Small Businesses Get a Boost From Finance Bigwigs

Initiatives Help Change Image of Category Players While Giving a Hand to the Little Guy

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Wall Street marketers are lending Main Street a hand.

Recovering from some hard knocks financial services took during the housing crisis, category giants such as Chase, American Express and even Goldman Sachs are introducing programs that promote their services while helping out the little guy. Just last week, Chase announced a $3 million program with the daily-deal service LivingSocial that lets consumers vote on which small businesses should receive $250,000 grants.

Though it has long targeted small-business owners to sell loans, Chase "wanted to give grant money to help jump-start deserving businesses," said Richard Quigley, president of Chase Business Card. "We're doing this now because small businesses are the engine of the U.S. economy," he said.

That dual business-to-business and consumer-facing approach is similar to AmEx's Small Business Saturday event, which drives cardholders to spend at Main Street mom-and-pop shops the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The program also creates incentives for the business owners to accept the card.

Visa is launching an Olympics campaign aimed at small businesses.

So why are small businesses getting so much attention? One reason is that there are simply more of them.

"Through the past two recessions we saw a spike in net new small businesses -- companies are recognizing that ," said Molly Maycock, exec director and small-business expert for research firm Corporate Executive Board. She said that , while the phenomenon may seem counterintuitive, people who have lost their jobs turn to entrepreneurship out of necessity.

Like American Express' program, Chase's small-business stimulus is two-pronged. It targets consumers and small-business owners, likely with the hopes that feel-good outreach will have a halo effect.

"They're both capitalizing on anti-big-business sentiment," Ms. Maycock said of Chase's and AmEx's "shop small" initiative. "You can see "Shop Small' working double duty, at once small business is grateful for driving business, but it also speaks to a shared value [with consumers]: "Let's get behind the little guy.'"

Cardholders "were able to help their downtown, which is what they all want to do," AmEx chief marketer John Hayes said. (For more from Mr. Hayes, see our interview with him).

Goldman Sachs, perhaps the most reviled Wall Street brand, also committed $500 million to help small businesses grow, through scholarships, lending and philanthropic support to community development groups.

Outside of financial services, Staples, which has long targeted small businesses for office-supply sales, is following suit. In April, the company awarded five small businesses $50,000 in free advertising and cash after its "Give Your Small Business the Push It Needs" contest.

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