Funding growth and mastering business skills are constant challenges for small businesses. Vermont entrepreneurs can access a variety of resources to help them succeed.
Middlebury-based Seedsheet sells gardening fabric embedded with a selection of organic, non-GMO seeds. The company needed investment to hire new employees to meet new demand. Socially conscious investment firm Vermont Works stepped in to help, providing a combination of financing and support, becoming a partnership that’s enabled Seedsheet to expand into new markets.
Over the years the Vermont Community Loan Fund has provided millions of dollars to Vermont businesses to preserve jobs and support communities. Its most recent recipients include small businesses ranging from a sawmill to an auto mechanic as well as an ice cream shop, child care center, and Stone’s Throw Pizza, a restaurant in Fairfax owned and operated by two best friends.
Vermont is known for its start-up friendly environment, which is enhanced by competitions that allow entrepreneurs to test their business concepts and win seed money.
Sometimes a business is not able to access larger funding sources due to restrictions or requirements that a very small company cannot meet. The ThinkVermont Innovation Grant is a new competitive program that will enable the State to invest in projects with grants that can be accessed more quickly and with fewer restrictions than traditional federal initiatives. Over 45 applications were submitted in the first round of the grant, with recipients to be announced early in 2019.
The Road Pitch is a business plan competition that travels all over Vermont seeking out the best new business ideas. Itinerant, motorcycle-riding investors and advisors hear dozens of pitches and select regional winners, who go on to compete for a grand prize. This year’s winner, Synticos, invented the SlurryJet, an abrasive waterjet cutting technology.
Accel-VT, a business accelerator, offers months-long support to businesses who compete to be a part of each cohort. The most recent cohort focused on climate economy businesses, and they wrapped up their work this fall. The third sprint of the Fall 2018 cohort—for agriculture and food-tech businesses—is underway.
Supports and training
Small businesses often start with one person who finds they need support and training to keep their business growing.
Burlington—a recognized innovation hub—established the Mayor’s Prize for Entrepreneurship to increase support for innovation and entrepreneurship in the city. Mayor Miro Weinberger recently announced the awarding of $100,000 to three organizations dedicated to providing extensive training and mentoring to new businesses.
The Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) offers coworking space, mentorship, and seed funds to its member entrepreneurs. It serves as an incubator for tech businesses by providing the space, guidance, and collaboration that entrepreneurs need to thrive. One of VCET’s biggest partners, the University of Vermont, recently reported on the many student and alumni businesses that have gotten their start at VCET, including OhMD, Next Capital, and Packetized Energy.
UVM students recently received essential training in an aspect of business that these inventors and engineers don’t usually get in the lab—customer service. They recently participated in National Science Foundation I-Corps training designed to prepare them to work with paying consumers—a very different audience from say, the federal government. UVM now plans to offer I-Corps trainings twice a year.
UVM students and faculty also have resources available to help them commercialize their inventions. Recently the Agency of Commerce and Community Development partnered with UVM’s Office of the Vice President for Research to host a seminar on technology transfer and tech commercialization, offering tips and guidance for how small businesses can access the federal commercialization funding programs.
Emerging Leaders is a free, seven-month executive course for small businesses offered by Vermont Technical College through the Vermont Small Business Development Center. Its most recent graduating class included a variety of companies including a brewery, excavating company, textile manufacturer, and a pharmacy.
Here for you
If you are an entrepreneur in search of programs and services to support your small business, the Agency of Commerce & Community Development has many ways to help. You can learn more about our programs at https://accd.vermont.gov/economic-development/doing-business. Or contact Joan Goldstein, Commissioner, (802) 272-2399 or Brett Long, Deputy Commissioner, (802) 461-9353.