What is the Elevate Small Business Grant and how is it helping local entrepreneurs?

This story is made possible by support from FHLBank Indianapolis.

Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis (FHLBank) is one of 11 regional banks that make up the Federal Home Loan Bank System. All FHL Banks are government-sponsored enterprises to ensure access to low-cost funding for member financial institutions. FHLBank Indianapolis is owned by approximately 400 Indiana and Michigan financial institution members.

The institutions FHLBank serves are wide-ranging—from banks and credit unions to insurance companies and community development financial institutions.
Entrepreneurs often have big dreams for their businesses. They dedicate their time and energy to seeing those dreams come true and creating a business they’re proud of.

Establishing a business is a feat all on its own—but growing that business can be even more challenging. Sometimes entrepreneurs will find themselves with a vision for how to make it happen, but no funds to put that vision into action. 

CourtesyKristin Smith, 3Rivers Federal Credit Union Business Service ManagerTraditional sources of funding typically come out of the business’s profits or through loans, both of which can be restrictive to a small business.

As the business service manager for 3 Rivers Federal Credit Union, part of Kirstin Smith’s job is helping entrepreneurs find avenues of funding. She says it isn’t always ideal for a business to start or grow by putting themselves in debt, and grant opportunities for small business owners are few and far between. However, utilizing the few that are available can mean a world of difference. 

Across Northeast Indiana, some small business owners have had the opportunity to utilize the Elevate Small Business Grant, which was created by FHLBank Indianapolis to help established businesses grow.

Rori Chaney is the community investment department manager for FHLBank Indianapolis. He says the Elevate Small Business Grant was created from a desire to create an impact beyond their federally required programming. 

CourtesyRori Chaney, Community Investment Department Manager at FHLBank Indianapolis“We wanted to be able to help our membership impact their communities in a different area,” Chaney says. “So we chose to focus on small business and economic development by developing the Elevate Small Business Grant in 2017. We then launched the program in 2018 with $250,000 in available funding.

In the years since its launch, the grant program has continued to increase in size due to increasing demand. This year FHLBank has made $1 million available to assist small businesses across its district.

Much like other small business grants, specific requirements must be met for businesses to be eligible for the Elevate Small Business Grant. First and foremost, the business must use the funds to grow in some way.

“We’re looking at how the new funds are going to open new lines of business for them,” Chaney provides as an example. “Are they going to be able to reach more customers or how are they going to serve current clientele better? We’re also looking for something that gives them a step up on their competition. Maybe they’ve had an idea that their competition is not doing and this capital can make that happen.”

Locally, businesses have used the grant to grow their businesses in many ways, such as purchasing new equipment, providing educational opportunities and constructing new venues.

For Antonuccio’s Italian Market, a specialty Italian market in the 07 zip code, owner Kerry Antonuccio wanted to bring fresh pasta into the lineup at her store.

Brittany SmithAntonuccio’s Italian Market, a specialty Italian market in the 07 zip code“I was introduced to the grant last April by 1st Source Bank,” she explains. “My banker reached out to me and encouraged me to apply. I knew I wanted to expand my offerings at the market and begin making fresh pasta. The Elevate Grant would allow me to purchase the necessary equipment, so I submitted my application.”

Fabcore Plastics, specializing in plastic fabrication and molding, applied for the grant to help cover the price of learning how to do vacuum molding. Owner Jason Mueller says it was the next step for his growing business.

“I felt like that was going to be our next natural step was to move into vacuum forming,” he explains. “Some of our large clients saw a need for vacuum forming as well and have kind of pushed us along.”

At T.A.G. Art Company, a one-stop art and entertainment business in New Haven, owner Troy Ganser used the Elevate Small Business grant to build a Fun Farm Village, which doubles as a set for film projects and a venue for events.

When reviewing applications, Chaney says they look for businesses with a compelling application that provides a thorough explanation of how they will use the funds and how the funds could improve their business.

CourtesySets at TAG Art Company in New Haven.Applicants must provide detailed information about how they will accomplish their proposal. If they’re buying new equipment, their application must provide up-to-date quotes about how much that equipment will cost. If they’re completing a project with construction, they have to provide quotes from contractors.

Chaney says grantees must spend the grant within six months of receiving it, so it’s important the plan they submit is feasible and fully mapped out.

He says they also like to see businesses that have proved to be stable and shown that they are capable of investing in themselves.

“It is important they are doing their part in stabilizing who they are and what they’re doing,” Chaney explains. “So, we like to see business plans. We like to see that they have financial consultants. We like to see that they’re taking small business courses—that they’re investing in themselves.”

This year the grant also includes the stipulation that businesses must have a minimum of $20,000 in gross revenue. Chaney says the grant is not meant to be a start-up fund, but rather to help those who have successfully launched a business and are ready to grow but might not have the financial capacity to do so.

The application process is highly competitive, with the Bank receiving 233 applications in last year’s round and 169 in this year’s competition. Chaney credits the decrease to a change in the grant’s timeline. While in previous years, the grant recipients were announced in November, this year awards will go out in August. Chaney says the timeline was moved forward in the year because businesses with construction projects often had a hard time completing those projects within the six-month period due to weather concerns. Recipients will now have more time during the warmer months to complete outside projects.

Antonuccio and Mueller, who both applied last year, describe the grant application process as straightforward. Member institutions typically have someone dedicated to reviewing the application before it reaches the team at FHLBank Indianapolis.

Brittany SmithAntonuccio’s Italian Market, a specialty Italian market in the 07 zip code,When a small business owner submits their application to 3 Rivers Federal Credit Union, Smith is the person who reviews them. She says as she reviews, she’s checking to make sure their application makes sense and truly fits into the “elevate” piece.

“I review all their documents, make sure the line is signed, the t’s are crossed—I make sure they filled out everything,” Smith says. “I make sure they have all the documents that have been requested…and then we can submit our applications.”

Once the applications make their way to Chaney’s team at FHLBank Indianapolis, they score the applications with an objective scoring system that looks at criteria like the location, lifespan of the business, and more.

“We also do a full comprehensive, subjective scoring,” he explains. “We go through a couple rounds and eventually, it comes down to the ones who just kind of rise to the top as the strongest applicants.”

While the process of gathering the information and waiting to hear back could be daunting for business owners, Ganser from T.A.G. Art says the grant was a “wonderful, refreshing opportunity.”

CourtesySets at TAG Art Company in New Haven.Smith says at 3 Rivers Federal Credit Union they’ve submitted upwards of over $140,000 worth in grant applications for business owners to the Elevate Small Business Grant and have been awarded $60,000.

The funding means a great deal to business owners. Mueller of Fabcore Plastics explains that he was self-funded for the first ten years of his business, using his profits to reinvest and grow. He took no loans or lines of credit to build the business.

“That was probably the hardest ten years of my entire life in a business,” he says.

Without the Elevate Small Business Grant, Mueller likely would have had to follow that same self-funding path to introduce plastic molding to his business. With the grant, he’s been able to invest in learning a new process and grow his business without fear that the upfront capital required to do so would negatively impact the health of the business.

Antonuccio recently purchased a commercial pasta extruder and will add an additional hand sink, and while she hasn’t been able to begin selling pasta yet, she already anticipates the positive change it will bring.

“Once we are up and running, the addition of fresh pasta will help us grow our customer base and revenue, and allow the business to provide another high quality, fresh food choice to our neighbors and those who travel from farther away for our unique offerings,” she explains.

Chaney says that assisting small business owners to grow their businesses is incredibly rewarding. 

“At the Bank, we offer several different programs to support affordable housing development and homeownership, all of which are designed to support strong communities,” he says. “The Elevate Small Business grant is that final piece of the puzzle needed to help build robust and thriving communities across our district.”
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Brittany Smith is Input Fort Wayne's Managing Editor. Previously she served as Assistant Editor and participated in the College Input Program. She also volunteers for Northeast Indiana Public Radio.