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Excerpt from eBook: Small Business Micro-Grants: Funding Start-Ups Unconventionally Section: Local Funders http://amzn.com/B009JXW74Q

LOCAL FUNDERS Currently nonprofit organizations and corporations are the primary funders of small business microgrants in the U.S. Even though small business micro-grant programs have the potential of spurring local economic development, creating jobs and encouraging entrepreneurship, few local entities and business groups have developed these types of programs. Why are we not seeing more start-up assistance in the form of micro-grants being made available to entrepreneurs and small business owners on the local level? Funding is a major reason. While many decision makers and stakeholders recognize the need to support local businesses development, few have made the financial commitment to implement a small business micro-grant program. Local small business micro-grants programs do exist, but they serve a limited population and are scattered throughout U.S. cities. Universities and business schools are another option for start-up funding in the form of business plan competitions, but these are often limited to the students who attend the educational institutions. The next section of this book focuses on one local business group in Texas that has not only made a financial commitment to small business development; they have laid the groundwork to ensure that startups have more than a fighting chance for business success in a tough economic climate. This local business group is the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, representing the city of McAllen and all of South Texas. Through the Inventors & Entrepreneurs (I & E) Network, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce has one of the most supportive and nurturing business development programs that I have seen and can serve as a model for other local entities and business groups. Inventors & Entrepreneurs (I & E) Network McAllen, located in the southern tip of Texas, is one of the most populous cities in the state. According to recent U.S. Census figures, McAllen’s population is estimated to be 133,742. McAllen has embarked on some innovative strategies to attract and retain jobs; help regional businesses expand and grow, and empower the local economy as a whole. The McAllen Chamber of Commerce, representing the city of McAllen and all of South Texas, is undoubtedly leading the charge in spurring local economic growth and wealth creation. The McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s Inventors & Entrepreneurs (I & E) Network is a business development program that identifies and cultivates local strengths and assets in supporting local economic development. Nurturing the entrepreneurial strengths of I & E participants, the program is guided by the following three elements: Learn. The program creates entrepreneurial capacity in the region by presenting concepts and tools required to advance innovative projects. Network. The program increases the social capital of participants by facilitating and encouraging the connection of participants with other inventors, entrepreneurs, agencies, universities and experts of the area. Act. The program is an action-oriented setting that challenges and rewards participants to act on their ideas. Source: McAllen Chamber of Commerce website, http://toolkit.mcallen.org/the-ie-network/

By Donna Polat


Excerpt from eBook: Small Business Micro-Grants: Funding Start-Ups Unconventionally Section: Local Funders http://amzn.com/B009JXW74Q

In addition to providing small business counseling, market analysis, educational seminars and other important resources, the I & E Network awards small grants to inventors, entrepreneurs and startups through an array of business competitions. The McAllen Chamber of Commerce Innovation Grant Award is an annual competition which recognizes and rewards great ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship. The program aims to meet two key objectives: (1) “generate entrepreneurial opportunities with funding to move ideas off the ground.” and (2) “expose entrepreneurs to the experience of requesting capital from potential investors.” While the awards are grants, which do not have to be repaid, applicants do have the responsibility of presenting their project in the best light, if they hope to be funded. Applicants must detail the objective, strategies and tactics of their project; state the amount of money they are requesting (up to $10,000); and explain how they plan to use the funding if awarded. The Chamber website also includes a list of common funding categories. They are as follows: New product evaluation Assessment of commercial potential Primary or secondary research Product development Performance proofing or testing Test marketing Patent research Intellectual property rights procurement Concept development In June 2011, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce selected four winning projects, awarding grants ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. The 2011 McAllen Innovation Grant Award Winners were: P2E Waste-To-Energy (Rodolfo Sanchez) Bolt Muzzle Brake (Jack York) Emergency Evacuation Stretcher / Bed (Hector Moroles) eJucomm, a mobile app (Dalinda Gonzalez – Alcantar) In an effort to promote business development in the McAllen Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), the McAllen Chamber of Commerce and the McAllen Economic Development Corporation have come together to sponsor the McAllen Business Plan Competition. This competition allows new, independent startups in the McAllen area, to complete for a $5,000 prize. According to the competition’s official rules for 2012, “all ventures must demonstrate market feasibility and the ability to obtain financing from customary lenders.” Teams participating in the two-phase competition are judged based on a number of factors such as the viability of the idea, the strength of the management team and how well they present their business plan. Documentation for the 2012 McAllen Business Plan Competition, including the official rules and application can be found on the McAllen Chamber of Commerce website. [http://toolkit.mcallen.org/the-mcallen-business-plan-competition] The winner of the 2011 McAllen Business Plan Competition was Geraldo Guerra. Guerra invented a product called the Banana E-Z Split, a package filled with the three common ice cream flavor toppings strawberry, chocolate and pineapple. Banana E-Z Split is available in retail stores.

By Donna Polat


Excerpt from eBook: Small Business Micro-Grants: Funding Start-Ups Unconventionally Section: Local Funders http://amzn.com/B009JXW74Q

In addition to the McAllen Chamber of Commerce Innovation Grant Award and the McAllen Business Plan Competition, there are three other Chamber-sponsored initiatives that are worth mentioning. Even though these initiatives do not provide startup funding or seed money, they are included in the discussion because of their contribution to the supportive and nurturing business development environment fostered by the Chamber’s I & E Network. The GoodPitch Competition allows individuals to give their best “elevator pitch” of two minutes or less to a panel of judges and the public and compete for cash prizes. The grand prize is $500, the second place prize is $100 and the third place prize is $50. The McAllen Chamber of Commerce also donates all the collected application fees to the grand prize winner’s chosen non-profit or charity. Individuals competing in the GoodPitch Competition are judged on factors such as, structure, originality, body language, etc. and have an opportunity to receive feedback from judges. In order to assist inventors and entrepreneurs prepare for successful crowd funding campaigns, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce has developed an initiative called the Crowdfunding Catapult. While the Chamber does not charge for the program, entrepreneurs are required to participate in a venture/product assessment. And finally, the Winner’s Roundtable rounds out the McAllen Chamber of Commerce initiatives I have been discussing. With no grant money awarded or cash prizes given away, the Winner’s Roundtable can easily be considered the most valuable of all initiatives offered by the McAllen Chamber. This initiative provides a platform by which recipients of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce Innovation Grant Awards and the McAllen Business Plan Competition can provide project updates, discuss challenges and most importantly, “share their experiences to help others move their projects forward.” There are two types of Winner’s Roundtable sessions, one session is reserved for recipients of the grants and the other session is open to the public. In this peer-learning environment, real knowledge can be transferred to emerging entrepreneurs to help them gain valuable business insight and avoid common pitfalls.

By Donna Polat


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