Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (TVFCU) celebrated National Small Business Week by opening applications for its Fifth Annual Idea Leap Grant.
Eligible businesses within TVFCU’s 13-county service area can now apply for a chance to receive one of five grants totaling $100,000. To qualify, businesses need to have been in operation for at least one year and have fewer than 25 employees. TVFCU is offering one grand prize of $50,000; one first-place prize of $20,000 and three runner-up $10,000 grants.
The Idea Leap Grant began as the brainchild of Tommy Nix, vice president of business and commercial services, TVFCU, and Ryan Henn, assistant vice president of commercial lending, TVFCU. Together they’ve helped allocate more than $4 million in loans to emerging and early-stage businesses through the Idea Leap Initiative — a complimentary loan program launched in 2016.
Now in its fifth iteration, the Idea Leap Grant program has rewarded Tennessee’s small businesses with over $178,000 and awarded two area technical assistance providers with over $15,000 in Idea Leap scholarships.
Recently, TREND interviewed two past winners to learn more about what it takes to receive these competitive small business grants — Bryant Hawkins, Wild Violet Permaculture and Cynthia Evans, Champion Christian Learning.
TREND: How did TVFCU’s Idea Leap Grant help push your small business forward?
Hawkins: We got $10,000 and it really went a long way. It allowed us to put money into the business and into more plants. We were able to create wholesale accounts and open up new avenues. The other side of it is that it gave us a lot of ability to be liquid. It gave us the ability to take a breath and focus on what’s ahead of us instead of running in a cycle. It freed up a lot of time and forward-thinking that we were then able to invest in our business.
TREND: What was the process of working with TVFCU like?
Hawkins: They’re great! We’ve used them way below the grant. We are huge believers of credit unions and keeping money in our local economy. So, they’re great because they’re here and know everyone. They really support their members and keep them moving. They’re constantly out there working for us.
TREND: How has the Idea Leap Grant helped your business?
Evans: I was able to open another classroom. I went from six kids to 67 kids to 99 kids to 105 kids in a matter of four and a half years. I can’t take kids unless I have staff, space, furniture, toys or curriculum. I had the space it just hadn’t been built out. And I didn’t have the staff. Getting staff in this day is hard because there are so many benefits coming out of Covid where people who didn’t work could still live. I had to pretty much step up to the plate and give sign-on bonuses and a nice salary. I was able to do that. I was able to open up the classroom, hire, take 12 kids off my waiting list and provide them with a space to learn.
TREND: As a past grant winner, do you have any tips for those looking to apply?
Evans: I would say that it is easier than people think it is. When I saw the opening date and ending date I said, ‘this is going to be a long process.’ But it really wasn’t. They want you to meet with people like CO.LAB and Launch to get you through this… TVFCU is really great at walking you through this process. I know people are intimidated and are like, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ Do it, that’s my advice.
The Idea Leap Grant application is open from Monday, May 2, until 5 pm on Friday, June 3. An independent panel of judges from across the community will review the applications. The panel will announce the 20 quarterfinalists in early July, which will be whittled down to ten semifinalists in late August.
Community members will then vote to name the top five finalists through the People’s Choice Award text voting campaign. The five finalists will then pitch their grant requests during Startup Week Chattanooga on Tuesday, Oct.18.
For more information or to see if your business qualifies, visit TVFCU’s website, here.
Featured image of Tommy Nix courtesy of Caleb Stambaugh