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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

How I Awarded My Community-Based Business $300k In Grants

Discover from the $300,000 funding that GeekPack was able to secure to start their empowering technology initiative.

A key element in my community-based business’s ability to effectively secure funds was my participation in a local accelerator program.

It was incredibly eye-opening to join this program.

The goal of accelerator programs is to assist businesses—typically start-ups—in accelerating their business growth.

When you enroll in a program like this, you gain access to consultants who can help you refine your concept, establish your business model, and establish contacts with financiers.
Early in the spring of 2022, I enrolled in a regional accelerator program called SCAPE and began studying grants and outside investors.

Before that, I wasn’t really aware of grants, and I definitely wasn’t aware that this could be a reality for my business.

Dilutive Vs. Non-Dilutive Funding

I was aware of investment firms, private equity, and angel investors, all of whom put money into your company in exchange for equity or a stake in the company.

This type of funding is deemed dilutionary.

For instance, if I were to borrow money from an outside investor, they would receive a share of my company in exchange. That would imply that I had reduced my stake to less than 100% of my company.

Grants, however, are essentially free money.

Although grants come with some conditions, they are generally non-dilutive.

They provide you money for a certain reason, but they don’t own any of your company.

I never in a million years imagined that my organization would have access to something like this. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t, now that I think about it.

Before I joined SCAPE and discovered Colorado’s AI (Advanced Industries) Grant

Grant Funding Applications

I was aware of the Colorado AI Grant, but I didn’t give it any thought because I figured I wouldn’t be qualified. After all, the phrase “advanced industries” is very posh.

That changed after I overheard a business owner speaking with a member of the public.

The Overland Expo was taking place in Flagstaff, Arizona, near the end of May 2022, and my husband and I were there. We had gone to check out an in-bed camper produced by Supertramp Campers.

I recall overhearing the conversation as I walked around the camper’s side. The man was discussing how the business had just received a free $250,000 grant from the state of Colorado.

At that moment, my ears perked up – hang on, what is he talking about?

I immediately Googled it, and sure enough, it came up. The very same grant that SCAPE had been telling me about.

The very same grant that I didn’t really think I would be eligible for.

At this time, I hadn’t decided whether I’d go for it or not.

But when I overheard him say that they received it, I thought to myself: if a company that makes campers received an Advanced Industries grant, maybe GeekPack could, too.

At that point, I decided to look into this in more detail.

And so I did.

Colorado Advanced Industries Grant

I made the decision to do it after completing a lot of study. I’m making an application for a $250,000 state grant.

September 1, 2022, was the date.

This initial application took a lot of time. It’s a really lengthy grant, and I completed it all by myself the first time.

Even though SCAPE gave me some assistance and provided a letter of support, I had never applied for a grant before and had no idea what I was doing.

I made the decision to do it after completing a lot of study. I’m requesting a $250,000 loan. From completing the SCAPE Accelerator program to striking a collaboration with Udemy to announcing our new membership, I thought there was a lot of movement at that time.

I received positive letters of recommendation, and I also learned from those familiar with this program that my application was quite strong. They believed I had a great opportunity.

Therefore, the only thing left to do was wait for the outcomes.

The Results

Hello Alice’s findings came in ahead of AI’s, despite the fact that I submitted the grant application for AI earlier.

When the program officers on the phone asked me what I would do if $50,000 suddenly appeared in my business bank account, I was taken aback.

I replied right away that I would expand the GeekPack crew.

They responded by saying, “Well, you’d better get your job descriptions ready, because you’ve received the grant.”

Suddenly, I had an extra $50,000 to get GeekPack closer to our long-term goals.

For me, this time and this funding marked a turning point that allowed me to advance. I broke down in tears on the phone because I was so overcome with happiness and thankfulness (and, to be honest, shock).

A few weeks later, the Advanced Industries grant announcement was made.

I can still clearly picture myself sitting in the living room on a Friday afternoon when I noticed the email arrive.

I received a crushing no, which was not what I was hoping for.

I sobbed uncontrollably and felt as though I had let everyone down. I thought I had let my group and the neighborhood down.

This, in my opinion, was a major setback for the expansion of the business.

And it was a serious blow to my self-esteem. I was confident in the strength of my application.

However, despite all of these emotions, when I realized that I had been unsuccessful, I knew right away that the AI award is open twice a year, and I would submit another application.

I distinctly recall saying to myself, “They’re going to get sick of seeing me reapply, and reapply, and reapply – as many times as it takes.”

Reapplying For The Colorado AI Grant

Although receiving a rejection was frustrating, knowing that another group had supported us was immensely comforting.

The $50k from Hello Alice gave us a tremendous boost as we reapplied for the AI award.

I therefore filed this application for a second time on March 1st, 2023.

One year after overhearing that talk, I received an email a month later informing me that we had won the grant.

Two items made a significant difference for this second application:

1. B2B | Wyoming Women’s Business Center

I was introduced to a Wyoming Women’s Business Center employee somewhere around November 2022 by one of my SCAPE mentors (yet another example of how beneficial this accelerator program was).

I called her and told her about The GeekPack Collective, our new membership program, and how we are growing.

We had just partnered with Udemy in September, and we wanted to start our B2B side of the business by collaborating with other businesses.

The Wyoming Women’s Business Center has placed women through the program with tailored digital marketing cohorts based on the requirements of their community. We established The GeekPack Collective in January 2023 and also negotiated a B2B agreement with them.

This was the beginning of GeekPack Partners.

This second grant application was very specific to our B2B program and how we would dedicate a full-time team member to running it.

2. Working With A Professional Writer

Around that time, I also began working with Ashley, who was writing some membership-related copy and had previously worked as a grant writer.

This time, I had her collaborate with me on the application copy, and her abilities made a significant difference. Ashley reportedly told me that the grant application needed to have a narrative.
She did a fantastic job of explaining where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re heading in her financing application.

As a result, my proposal was significantly stronger, and I had a B2B case study and a very clear objective for this money.

Additionally, this second application was not only approved but also given high priority.

I wasn’t required to address the board. I didn’t have to justify myself or make a case to anyone.

They sincerely desired the success of the GeekPack Partners Program and believed in it. Thus, the application was actually expedited, which was a significant validation, especially after they were rejected for the funding in the first round.

Why You Should Consider Grants For Your Online Business

It’s safe to say that these grants had a huge impact on my business.

Here are a few reasons why I think you should also start considering this for your business.

Grant Money Is Non-Dilutive Money

As I mentioned before, grants don’t dilute any of your ownership. You get the money, and you get to keep 100% of your company.

Applications Copy Can Be Repurposed

The language we used for the second AI grant application, specifically about the B2B, has been repurposed for so many other things.

  • Other grant applications.
  • Applying for local, national & international business organizations.
  • Joining another accelerator program (TVX-W).

Partners Initiative
Obtaining this award also helped us launch our newest business venture, B2B.

We now have a full-time person managing the GeekPack Partners program, which we could not have launched without this funding.

Increased Credibility

When you are awarded a grant, other organizations are more likely to say yes to you.

Because someone else already believed in you and validated your idea, it is less risky for them to do the same.

This brings us to the last one.

Commercial Validation
The validation that all these other groups recognize the value in my business has been one of the key lessons learned from this process.

All of these folks support what we’re doing, believe in it, and want to see it succeed, whether it’s a privately financed nonprofit like Hello Alice or a state fund like the Advanced Industries Colorado award.

That’s a huge boost of confidence. And that’s probably been one of the biggest impacts these grants have had on me as a business owner.

$300,000’s Effects And What They Mean For GeekPack
Receiving $300,000 for free is really significant.

The most significant outcome was being able to finance a new program before we really had any revenue from it. It allowed me to invest in team members and pay for some hard costs.

GeekPack has a lofty goal: by including more than 1 million voices in the conversation by 2030, we’ll completely transform the way technology is perceived.

Our company’s B2B division collaborates with companies and mission-driven organizations like Economic & Workforce Development that are working to improve communities and address the digital skills gap.

As a result, we can reach more people and have an impact on more areas.

Thus, GeekPack Partners is how we will reach 1 million people, and these grants are assisting us in launching and scaling this new business before it begins to generate revenue.

Final Thoughts On Grant Funding

This entire process confirmed our company concept in addition to validating myself.

It provided confirmation for the GeekPack team and our current work.

It provided our community with validation.

And a lot of this relates to my personal why as well as the objective of our business, which is to reach and impact.

If any one of us didn’t believe in what we’re doing and the impact we’re making, I wouldn’t have this incredible team.

Because GeekPack is ultimately bigger than I am. Each team member is dwarfed by GeekPack. Greater than our neighborhood, it.

And the best part? Everyone gets to be a part of it.

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