Now is the time to analyze and manage costs and investments, which will be crucial to capitalize on as we head into an upswing in business. Photo by Hero Images

Although the world may be going back to normal and it feels like we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, business owners across the country are seeing lasting negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their companies. Especially in the restaurant industry, local business owners are having to rely on government aid to make sure employees and rent are paid, keeping stress levels very high.

Our company, Cerboni, is a financial firm that works with clients to relieve the burden business owners face by taking things like back-office work, inventory management and more off their plate to give them the freedom to focus on their trade. To help alleviate some of this stress, we are taking an in-depth look at some of the options available to business owners working to navigate government aid applications, along with opportunities for future prosperity.

Don’t let financial opportunities fall through the cracks

While business owners are often pulled in many directions, it's important to make sure you are taking advantage of any help that is available to you. Currently, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, Employee Retention Credit and the Paycheck Protection Program are available to qualifying business owners. Taking the time to figure out which opportunities you should apply for and which ones are the best fit, will greatly benefit your company in the long run.

What to know about the Restaurant Revitalization Fund

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund provides funding equal to pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location for eligible restaurants, bars and other qualifying businesses where onsite sales to the public make-up at least 33 percent of gross sales receipts. Recipients have two years to use these funds, and the money can be used for business expenses such as payroll, mortgage obligations, rent payments, maintenance expenses, construction of outdoor seating and more.

The most important thing to know about this fund is how to calculate the funding amount. For those operating prior to or on January 1, 2019, applicants will calculate the 2019 gross receipts minus 2020 gross receipts minus PPP loan amounts. Applicants that began operations partially through 2019 should average the 2019 monthly gross receipts and multiply by 12, subtract 2020 gross receipts and then subtract PPP loan amounts. Businesses that began operations between January 1, 2020 and March 10, 2021, or those who have not yet opened but have incurred eligible expenses as of March 11, 2021, should calculate the amount spent on eligible expenses between February 15, 2020 and March 11, 2021, subtract 2020 gross receipts, then subtract 2021 gross receipts (through March 11, 2021) and, lastly, subtract PPP loan amounts.

Utilizing Employee Retention Credit

The Employee Retention Credit is a fully refundable tax credit for "qualified wages" paid to employers that were ordered to suspend operations fully or partially during 2020 or experienced a significant decline (below 50%) in gross receipts during the calendar quarter. The purpose of the Employee Retention Credit is to encourage employers to keep employees on payroll during the pandemic. Recipients can receive up to $5,000 for each full-time employee retained between March 13, 2020 and December 31, 2020 and up to $14,000 for each employee retained between January 1, 2021 and June 30, 2021. Qualified wages depend on the size of the operation. If the employer averaged more than 100 employees in 2019, the wages are only paid for the time the employee is not providing services. If the employer has less than 100 employees, the wages are paid to any employee during any period of hardship due to the pandemic. Recipients of PPP are not eligible for Employee Retention Credit.

Future prosperity

The restaurant industry was greatly impacted by the pandemic, but if you survived, you now have a great opportunity ahead of you. People are starting to return to a sense of normalcy and want to get back to enjoying things like events, shopping, eating out with friends and family and more.

Now is the time to analyze and manage costs and investments, which will be crucial to capitalize on as we head into an upswing in business. Understanding all of these financial nuances can seem daunting, so Cerboni can assist with knowing how to make the right investments in order to increase sales and profitability – this could be through marketing and advertising, changing up the menu to minimize cost of goods sold or managing operating costs.

For those who want to grow their footprint, the market is hot, and it's the perfect time to expand your market presence through negotiation of better lease terms and lower interest rates. Use this time to strategize on how to not only cut costs, but how to increase sales, and how to ultimately grow.

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Maria Degaine and Joshua Santana are co-founders of Houston-based Cerboni.

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Houston-based health tech startup is revolutionizing patient selection for clinical trials

working smarter

On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

Houston nonprofit unveils new and improved bayou cleaning vessel

litter free

For over 20 years, a nonprofit organization has hired people to clean 14 miles of bayou in Houston. And with a newly updated innovative boat, keeping Buffalo Bayou clean just got a lot more efficient.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveils its newest version of the Bayou-Vac this week, and it's expected to be fully operational this month. BBP Board Member Mike Garver designed both the initial model of the custom-designed and fabricated boat as well as the 2022 version. BBP's Clean & Green team — using Garver's boat — has removed around 2,000 cubic yards of trash annually, which is the equivalent of about 167 commercial dump trucks. The new and improved version is expected to make an even bigger impact.

“The Bayou-Vac is a game changer for our program,” says BBP field operations manager, Robby Robinson, in a news release. “Once up and running, we foresee being able to gain an entire workday worth of time for every offload, making us twice as efficient at clearing trash from the bayou.”

Keeping the bayou clean is important, since the water — and whatever trash its carrying — runs off into Galveston Bay, and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. The improvements made to the Bayou-Vac include removable dumpsters that can be easily swapped out, slid off, and attached to a dump truck. The older model included workers having to manually handle trash and debris and a secondary, land-based vacuum used to suck out the trash from onboard.

Additionally, the Bayou-Vac now has a moveable, hydraulic arm attached to the bow of the vessel that can support the weight of the 16-foot vacuum hose. Again, this task was something done manually on the previous model of the Bayou-Vac.

“BBP deeply appreciates the ingenuity of our board member Mike Garver and the generosity of Sis and Hasty Johnson and the Kinder Foundation, the funders of the new Bayou-Vac,” BBP President Anne Olson says in the release. “We also thank the Harris County Flood Control District and Port Houston for their longtime support of BBP’s Clean & Green Program.”