Author Archive

Amber Grant Application Critique: Granite Performance

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020

Torey Lee Brooks’ Amber Grant application for Granite Performance, her youth athlete coaching program, was strong in a lot of areas, but missed some information that would have made it a stronger contender.

The WomensNet advisory board went back through the application, line by line, to try and point out the strengths and weaknesses, in the hopes of helping Torey prepare a winning grant application for this and/or other grant programs.

Here is her application:

Tell us about your business

I grew up competing at a high level in Alpine ski racing. Though I loved the sport and competed internationally, there were a couple aspects I found very difficult to face.

The first, was the lack of women coaches in the sport- in my 14 years of competing, I believe I had 2 female coaches out of at least 40. This is especially shocking as there are an equal number of female and male competitors!

The second was the lack of affordable and local avenues available to athletes who did not have the financial background to travel great distances for “on-snow” training but who wanted to stay fit and prepare for the next season. I grew up in rural NH with a single mom who worked so hard to make sure she gave us everything we needed. With this said, my ski racing put a huge financial burden on her as she struggled to send me to expensive training camps across the country to allow me to reach my goals.

This is why I chose to start Granite Performance. Granite Performance is a program run by myself and 2 other female coaches to provide physical, mental, and nutritional coaching to athletes in the summer and fall off-seasons. We work hard to keep our programs affordable and accessible to local New Hampshire athletes including providing carpooling and payment plans as needed. We hope to act as mentors to all of our athletes and make sure that this sport is inclusive and that they can succeed no matter their financial background.

Tell us what you would do with the money if awarded a grant

This money would allow us to cover some of the legal and website costs (about $3000) of starting a business like our which requires release forms specific to children’s safety. It would also help us buy our own training equipment for our athletes to use and to start our own scholarship program which would grant athletes in need free sessions each year! We started this business in February and became and LLC this May. COVID-19 has made this stressful and we have been working hard to shift out programs to virtual as needed to keep our athletes safe. This grant would greatly help us stay afloat to see our program succeed!

Our critique

To start, Torey did a really good job of explaining what the business is and identifying the problem for many young female athletes, especially in skiing – a lack of female coaches.

Granite Performance as a business is also well-defined and specific. Torey’s not trying to do too much, like serving young women nationwide, or expanding too quickly from Alpine skiing into other sports.

Finally, her planned use of any grant funds makes a lot of sense. Since the business is newer, investing in marketing and equipment early on can certainly help to attract clients.

Opportunities for improvement

One area where the committee struggled a bit was in understanding the size of the market for this type of coaching service. How large is the potential customer base, especially within a 25- or 50-mile radius of your location in New Hampshire? Is there a large enough market to support the business? Are there similar operations in other parts of the country you can point to as proof that you have a viable business model?

If you need more market research, you might try and partner with a ski association or local mountain to see if, working together, you can survey their membership or client base. Online survey software like Survey Monkey can be useful and easy to set up. Using a survey, you could ask skiers, or parents of skiers, about their interest in such a program, including how far they’d be willing to travel.

That market data could then help you prepare financial projections, breaking down your pricing model, projected revenue, and expenses, which were missing in your first application. It’s always hard to create financial documents without historical data, but you can make some assumptions based on market size or using a competitor in another state for comparison.

Proving that your business is viable is important for any kind of grant or award program, so the more detail you can offer in that regard, the better your results.

This was a good start and we hope that these ideas help you get a little more specific about the business and how you’ll make money.

How to write a short-but-effective business plan

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

When you hear the term “business plan,” you probably picture a book-length document filled with pages and pages of financial statements. That’s what many of us picture, because that’s what many of us were taught a business plan should look like.

It had to be long and full of details regarding your idea, how you’ll market it, and who’s going to buy it, with sales projections down to the penny.

Fortunately, over time, the emphasis on length and detail of business plans has evolved. And where such plans previously were used primarily to pursue outside financing from banks or investors, today many entrepreneurs understand that a business plan is a useful exercise to map out a growth strategy, regardless of the funding situation.

In fact, the process of thinking through exactly what your business is, what you sell, to whom, how, and for how much is extremely useful at any stage. It can help assess how viable a new idea is or point out new opportunities for profit that recently emerged for an existing venture.

A Simple Business Plan

So what does a short-but-effective business plan contain?

Actually, it contains a lot of the same information older business plans did, but communicated more efficiently. Meaning, with fewer words.

The Big Idea. In a paragraph or two, explain what problem currently exists in the market, how large your potential market is, and what your solution to that problem is. Why is it better than what’s currently available – what’s your competitive advantage? What proof do you have that there is demand for what you’re offering – any recent statistics that have been reported, for example?

For example, have you invented a new facial mask that signals when you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus? Have you developed a strategy for buying Facebook ads that has a huge conversion rate? Or are you opening a grocery store in a town where the closest supermarket is 50 miles away? What opportunity are you pursuing?

Target customers. Who is most likely to buy what you’re selling, such as soccer moms, the Fortune 500, or employees working from a home office, to name just a few? Who are you trying to sell to and how many of those individuals or companies are there? Also, where are your customers based? That is, will you sell locally, nationally, or internationally?

If you’re selling goods online, you could theoretically serve an international market, but if you’ve opened a catering business, you may have found that serving customers farther than 30 miles could be problematic. So who are your customers and where will you find them?

Business model. How will you make money at this new venture – that’s really what a business model is. How profitable will it be, exactly? You may need to describe the average costs of production and retail price to explain the profits generated. How will you distribute your product or service? How will you scale the business?

For example, if you’re launching a new magazine, you’ll make money through advertisers and paid subscriptions – unless you plan to mail it out free. If you’re a fashion vlogger on YouTube, you may make money through online ads and affiliate relationships from the companies you showcase. Or if you’re a graphic designer, you probably sell your services to companies and individuals on an as-needed basis.

Your management team. One of the most important sections to investors has to do with the people who are involved in running your company. Who are they, what kind of experience do they have, and why are they the absolute best people to help grow your company? Plus, what are your short-term hiring plans, if any, to fill key positions. Briefly talk about your great team and where you hope to add to your team’s skillsets in the near future.

Ideally, you have people working with you who have work experience at successful companies, or at companies in your industry, so they can bring that expertise to help your company grow faster. And having a plan for who you need to hire, and in what order, helps you plan ahead, to avoid getting overwhelmed and overworked because you’re understaffed.

Your marketing plan. What kinds of tools are you going to use to spread the word of your company’s products and services and what is your key message? What major benefit will you emphasize in your promotional materials? For example, do you have a feature no other product does? Are you the lowest cost? Will you save the customer money?

Your marketing plan is driven by how much money you have to invest in marketing, so you’ll want to lead with that information, and then break down how you’ll spend it. How much will go to advertising – print or online, for example, how much will go to social media, how much to printed marketing or packaging materials, signage, publicity, public speaking, freebies, trade shows, and other marketing tactics?

Your financial plan. Use a spreadsheet to lay out your cash flow statement for at least one year, though two or three years is better. Then use those monthly projections to create an annual profit and loss statement. And build a simple balance sheet that breaks down what you own and what you owe. If you’re looking for a loan or investors, explain how much you need, what you’ll use that money on, and how that investment will help grow the company faster than it’s currently growing.

There are templates you can use to lay out your expected revenue by month and then match it up with your expected expenses, to ensure you’re always profitable. Your profit and loss is pulled from your monthly projections and your balance sheet based on what you’ve purchased for the business, such as equipment, real estate, raw materials, and supplies, and what you may still owe for those expenses.

How to Use a Business Plan

Although many entrepreneurs work hard to draft a well-written business plan during startup, not enough existing business owners work through the process once their company is up-and-running. And in both cases, too few businesses actually refer back to their plans once drafted.

Don’t do that.

Refer back regularly to your plan and update it regularly to reflect your company as it exists today. Revise it as needed, such as if you discovered a new, more profitable market segment; you uncovered you could automate part of your production process and reduce expenses; or if you found an effective marketing tool that you want to add to your promotional plan.

As you spot opportunities for refining and improving your business plan, make changes. Then make sure your financial projections mirror the changes you’ve made in other parts of your plan.

Consider printing out and putting the pages of your plan up publicly, so that everyone in the company understands what you’re trying to accomplish.

The most effective business plans aren’t hidden away or kept secret. They’re shared internally so that everyone in the company recognizes how they can play a role in making the company more successful.

Winning Grant Funding Propelled Access Trax Forward

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

A course in assistive technology changed Kelly Twichel’s and Eric Packard’s career paths. The two were in graduate school in 2016 at the University of St. Augustine studying to become occupational therapists. As part of their coursework, the class teammates were challenged to invent a product that would assist individuals with disabilities in their daily lives.

Their resulting invention was a portable pathway for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices, which they dubbed Access Trax.

Converting an Idea into a Business

Twichel and Packard were so passionate about their product that they decided to explore producing and selling it, but, as students, they had no income to start product manufacturing, Twichel explains. So they turned to their university to ask if there were any grant opportunities for which they might qualify.

After some research, they were told that the James McGuire Global Business Plan Competition was an event for which they qualified, but the grant application was due in March, only six weeks away. Many teams at other schools had been preparing their applications for months. Despite feeling stressed about the looming due date, Twichel and Packard got to work.

“We studied the requirements and went step-by-step through [the grant application instructions],” Twichel recalls, taking special care to answer every question as completely as possible. They got it in on time and then waited.

On May 3, they received an email announcing that Access Trax had been chosen as one of six finalists. (It turns out that Twichel had missed the previous email alerting them they had made the semi-finals.) That year, Access Trax was the only finalist from the US.

And, as a finalist, the company won a grant of $7,500. It wasn’t the grand prize, but this funding, paired with a surprise award of $5,000 from their school’s board of directors, was enough to cover the cost of creating prototypes required for manufacturing.

Most recently, the company was the grand prize winner of $50,000 in the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest, following on the heels of its Amber Grant win in December 2018.

In all, Access Trax has won grants totaling $75,750. Since 2017, the company has entered 11 different grant competitions and won 4, achieving a staggering 36% success rate.

Photo by Access Trax

Success Tips

As part of the process for developing the first grant application, Access Trax’s founders asked their grad school for feedback, to help improve their odds of winning. What they heard from administrators there and from other grant programs they entered confirmed they’ve done a number of things well.

Fortunately, almost any entrepreneur or business owner can replicate Twichel’s and Packard’s tactics. Twichel recommends that you:

  1. Read the application instructions carefully. Understand from the start what the grant committee is looking for, or hoping to read in your application.

And if you’re not clear about a particular question, email the grant sponsor to ask, Twichel says. “Don’t reduce your odds of winning by guessing.”

(You can find tips for writing a solid Amber Grant application here.)

  1. Focus on the problem your product or service solves. How does your offering change someone else’s life, by solving a nagging problem, improving a process, or creating new opportunities? In your application, emphasize how much of an impact your invention or development can have on the lives of a group of people, whatever their challenge.

Although Access Trax focused on individuals that could benefit from assistive technologies, your product or service might be as simple as providing healthy pre-packaged meals, reducing a family’s cell phone bill, or tracking wayward pets. Or it could address larger issues, like providing clean water, reducing plastic in the ocean, or creating a fast coronavirus test.

  1. Personalize the issue. “Bring people in to what the problem is,” says Twichel, by putting your audience in the shoes of the people you are trying to serve. Have a person at the center of the story, she says.

Access Trax started its application by setting the stage for the problem its product solves. “Imagine you’re a surfer. One morning, you’re surfing some great waves, fall off a wave, and hit the sandy ocean bottom. You know something’s very wrong instantly. You’ve suffered a spinal cord injury that changes your life forever.”

  1. Look at winning examples. If you can get access to successful grant submissions, read them carefully to understand what the applicant did well. But even if you can’t see past submissions for the program you’re applying to, search for winning grant applications for other programs, to get an idea of how you might present your story and request for support.

Or you may be asked to provide documentation that you’ve never heard of, such as a business model canvas or pitch deck. Before starting to draft a response that you think may hit the mark, research what these successful materials contain and look like. Find great templates to use as models. Twichel recommends Slidebean for well-designed slide deck templates.

To find more grant programs, Twichel advises joining groups where like-minded business owners congregate. She suggests Startupschool as one example, which is free online training for startup founders.

Odds are you may find resources specific to your city, college, or industry. It’s there you’re likely to hear about helpful resources and opportunities for funding.

 

May 2020 Amber Grant Awarded to Eris EcoVation Healing Homes

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

We announced five May Amber Grant finalists last week. Today we’re happy to share the $4,000 recipient, who is also our sixth qualifier for the $25,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Elizabeth Ann Clark of Eris EcoVation Healing Homes. You can learn all about her business and mission — plus her tips for other female entrepreneurs — below.

WN: Tell us about Eris EcoVation Healing Homes and what inspired its launch

EAC: Eris EcoVation Healing Homes is the culmination of all of my dreams coming true. I dream BIG and feel others should know that freedom, too. Sadly, that is not the case for so many. However, that is what I intend to do. Eris EcoVation Healing Homes are built from the wisdom of life’s lessons learned. My approach rebuilds our foundation by responsibly repurposing shipping containers into holistically designed homes and healing spaces kept affordable for every budget and is personalized into your space of healing and wellbeing.

Eris EcoVation Healing Homes is confronting more than the housing crisis. Armed with logic, compassion, and purpose, our team of experts create thoughtful steel solutions that eliminate the cause. These spaces improve the health of families living in them, the environment it shares space with, and the communities containing them. We build more than a dream for a few. We restore hope in YOU. Your home is the structure and support required to recover from any crisis. Shipping containers are built to withstand extreme conditions, naturally, and will withstand the storm from toddlers, teenagers, and everything Mother Nature has got.

By responsibly repurposing the resources surrounding us, we can provide affordable homes and cost effective structures customized to your purpose. This creates flexibility and freedom for you to choose the features most important to you, your business, and the community you serve.Our vision is to rebuild our world where everyone has a safe place to lay their heads at night and dream BIG, waking up to a life where endless impossibilities are possible and your dreams are your everyday reality.

Designing your dream space remains personal, stays within your budget, and is truly a place you are proud to call home. My company builds, “CAN!™”, a verb; an empowerment initiative reminding you, YOU CAN! when you forget or doubt. CAN!™ is built with solid “steel bones” to protect you and your family for generations. A holistic approach to design supports your mental and emotional health and is kind to the environment. Big dreams CAN!™ become the norm one day.

WN: Who’s building these homes – and how long does it take?

EAC: Residents in the communities or regions where these structures will be placed through apprenticeship programs specifically to train unemployed, underskilled, and others barred by the system. These are women, veterans, formerly incarcerated individuals and any other adults needing another chance at life. Through this act of compassion, labor costs are decreased, communities are inspired, and people are empowered with industry specific skills and the opportunity to lead a rapidly expanding division in building practices, setting a new standard for all.

People, communities, and society recovers when affordable becomes standard. Together we CAN!™ #ContainTheCrisis™”

These homes are produced within 4-6 months (3 months after permitting) welded to the foundation, and completed over 3 days. My architect is the nation’s expert in container design and sustainable construction with a heart as big as mine. We will build the special space you love that loves you back.

WN: What organizations do you partner with? How did you choose them?

EAC: They choose me. Organizations that believe as I do are my natural partners. I partner with all organizations that have a dream, too. I support the cause important to you or your organization focused on relief in housing, addiction recovery, homelessness, veterans communities, care for children, seniors, tribal nations, mental health support, student or workforce housing. By building compassionate, sustainable communities/homes with shipping containers, stable supportive housing that requires low to no maintenance for 50+ years and make the most of your fundraising dollars and investment funds.

My commitment to clients, organizations, and investors is to only align with suppliers and vendors that adhere to the highest quality of service with equal social impact responsibility.

WN: Share some advice you’d give an aspiring female entrepreneur.

EAC: The 3 or 4 words of wisdom that I have known, adopted, and live everyday by is the same 1 – 2 – 3 step to move any obstacle, break through any block, and replaces fear with courage and strength.

HOPE – allow yourself to dream and see your dream, whatever that is to you.

BELIEVE – in yourself, in your spirit, in your dream, in your world, to the point it becomes your truth, even if “they” tell you its crazy, impossible, or too big. Believe it anyway! Then you will be ready.

BEGIN…AGAIN – Take that next first step, again. Don’t stop, don’t doubt, stand in your truth as many times as it takes. There is no “3 Strikes, You’re Out” rule. You decide the number of times needed to make your inner peace, happiness, or business a reality.

If you are unable to find the hope needed to start your process again, then sing!

SING your favorite song as long as your lungs will allow!

DANCE even if you think you don’t know how!

LAUGH louder than you ever have before!

You’ll find your hope, because hope will find YOU! Everything you want, wants you, too.

Why Kiva May be a Solid Option for Startup Funding

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020

While grants that you don’t have to pay back are certainly a preferred means of getting the money needed to start a business, securing a low interest loan is a potential Plan B. As long as the interest rate is reasonable and payment term longer than a couple of years, financing your business’ growth through a loan isn’t a bad strategy.

However, with banks becoming more stringent about qualification requirements, it’s becoming more difficult to be approved for a loan. You frequently need a combination of a solid credit score, low existing debt, and collateral to secure the loan in order to be approved. That’s often challenging for newer entrepreneurs.

Fortunately, non-bank lenders are often willing to work with startup businesses, to provide the capital needed to get started. One such lending platform is Kiva.org.

“When typical lenders will look at collateral, credit, and other sometimes prohibitive factors for early stage businesses or financially excluded business owners, Kiva sets its criteria to be as inclusive as possible, so more can get a foothold on what we call the ‘capital ladder,” says Katherine Lynch, senior manager, Kiva US. For example, 46 percent of Kiva borrowers have credits scores below 650.

Women Make Up the Majority of Borrowers at Kiva

In fact, women account for 68 percent of Kiva’s lending clients, with the average US loan size around $7,000. Of businesses funded, 29 percent are in the food industry, 28 percent are service businesses, and 18 percent are retail.

The most common uses of the funding are: purchasing equipment, inventory, and remodeling or expansion, Lynch says.

Kiva Loans

Kiva has two loan products: a crowdfunded microloan and a microlending tool used by economic development departments.

The crowdfunded microloan offers loans of $1,000 to $10,000, with 0 percent interest, and repayment terms of 12 to 42 months. Many borrowers frequently excluded from qualification at other lending programs are able to apply through Kiva.

However, in response to the coronavirus, Kiva now offers loans of up to $15,000, with repayment periods up to 36 months, but with a 6-month grace period before repayment starts.

It’s clear access to capital is needed now more than ever, as Kiva has seen the number of loan applications increase 800 percent between March and May 2020 during the pandemic. The average loan size has risen to $8,500 and the time required to fund them averages seven days.

Application Tips

As with many other lenders, Kiva wants to see the following basic information in loan applications:

  • Where the borrower is from and where they live now
  • Why they became an entrepreneur
  • Their business’s mission
  • A detailed loan use plan

Lynch offers another tip: provide great photos. “Lenders gravitate toward photos of business owners at work — in whatever way that means for that business — that clearly displays their face and their smile!”

Kiva lends business funds to women entrepreneurs around the world, providing much-needed capital to female entrepreneurs who might have few other options.

“Though Kiva’s US lending accounts for about 5 percent of the overall portfolio, borrowers do find that the international community is eager to support their loan. With fundraising times lasting about a 1-2 weeks and 150+ lenders per loan, borrowers often feel nervous at the start of the process (which is totally fair – crowdfunding is a vulnerable experience!), but supported and more connected by the end,” says Lynch.

May 2020 Amber Grant Finalists

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

Today, we’re writing to share 5 finalists for the $4,000 May Amber Grant. The recipient will be the 6th of 12 finalists for the 2020 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000). In addition, all 4 runners-up will receive an additional grant of $1,000. Only the $4,000 recipient will become eligible for the year-end Amber Grant.

We’ll share the May winner next week. For now, congratulations to the following women-owned businesses:

Eris EcoVation Healing Homes

Website

 

James’ Neighborhood Recycling Service

Website

 

Website

 

Nightingale Technologies

Website

 

Mya’s Morsels

Website