NASHVILLE—The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is launching “LiftTN: Microenterprise,” a pilot program to expand microenterprise development across the state. The program—funded through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—is aimed at helping businesses that have five or fewer employees expand. $400,000 in total grant money is being awarded over a two-year contract to these five grantees:
- West TN: altShops through Communities Unlimited ($100,000)
- East TN: Mentor-Protégée Program through Knoxville Chamber of Commerce ($50,000)
- Middle and Statewide: Incubator Without Walls Expansion Program through Nashville
Business Incubation Center ($200,000)
- Community-based Program: Sonneschein Green Initiatives (SGI) Marketplace in Hohenwald ($25,000)
- Youth: TN Code Academy for Youth ($25,000)
“I am extremely pleased TNECD can participate in this pilot program,” Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd said. “Encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship is an important piece of a robust economic development strategy, as entrepreneurs choose to stay here and invest in our state, which ultimately helps create jobs and sustain long-term community growth.”
In order to determine the grant recipients, TNECD—through its office of federal programs and the Business Enterprise Resource Office (BERO)—held four meetings across the state in January and February 2014. The purpose of those meetings was to gather information regarding unmet needs of microenterprises from agencies and organizations that work with small, women-owned, minority-owned, veteran-owned, rural and urban core businesses as well as youth entrepreneurs.
“Through the five selected programs, microenterprises will have access to invaluable services and opportunities that will improve lives and communities,” TNECD’s BERO Director, Wisty Pender, said. “’LiftTN: Microenterprise’ is unique because of the diverse nature of the programs involved. All five engage in a wide range of activities that will serve as a template for possible future expansion of this pilot program.”
“When HUD encouraged us to use more Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to support economic development, we decided to focus on microenterprise businesses,” TNECD’s Director of Federal Programs, Brooxie Carlton said. “It’s exciting to use some of our CDBG funds in this new way because it allows us to serve very small businesses across Tennessee. The goal is to continue the program beyond this two-year pilot period, ultimately expanding it throughout the state.”
Communities Unlimited will use the grant funds to operate the altShops program in the Bolivar and Somerville downtown areas. The altShops program is a business incubator program for popup retail shops that recruits business owners and assists them with startup costs, leasing of commercial property and other technical assistance The altShops program will fund three microenterprises in Bolivar and three microenterprises in Somerville.
The Knoxville Chamber will use the funds to operate the Propel, a mentor-protégée program in cooperation with the respective chambers in Knox, Roane, Blount, Jefferson and Anderson Counties. Propel will pair protégés (microenterprises), which are relatively new to business with mentors who are established business leaders. In addition to a mentor, each protégé will receive coaching and technical assistance.
Growth Enterprises Nashville will use their grant to expand the capacity of the Incubator Without Walls (“Virtual Incubator”), a program that provides virtual business incubation. Participants in the Virtual Incubator will receive one-on-one business counseling, as well as location-based training classes.
Center for Holistic Ecology currently conducts the Sonnenschein Green Initiative (SGI) that promotes ecologically friendly business activity in the Hohenwald community and surrounding areas. The grant money will allow SGI to establish and operate the Hohenwald Marketplace, a place for local vendors to operate and sell services and goods.
The TN Code Academy will use grant funds to expand the reach of its TN Code Academy for Youth, a program that conducts one-day workshops, camps and classes to further learning and increase interest in computer science and programming for students between the ages of 12-18. The grant will allow TN Code Academy to offer “Apps and Entrepreneurship”, teaching youth not only how to make an app, but how to monetize what they create.