By Wesley Brown
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
When Matt and Erin Scully sought a loan last year to open a coffee shop downtown, the couple was turned away by about half a dozen banks.
They had little startup funding, and their dream of owning a café called The Scullery simmered, until the couple learned about the city’s Small Business Plan Competition.
After working with ECU’s Small Business and Technology Development Center to model a vision statement for the restaurant, the Scullys were approved for a grant through the four-year-old program designed by the city to redevelop downtown and west Greenville.
Still frustrated by tight-fisted bank lending policies, 17 entrepreneurs have won money through the lending contest that twice a year awards between $15,000 and $30,000 to as many as four companies.
Fifteen remain open today.
A new grant cycle for the program starts Saturday, when applications are due, with the hope that increased excitement will help preserve the competition, which at is at the mercy of a dwindling supply of money allocated for the contest in a low-interest bond referendum passed in 2004.
“It was our only source of funding when we opened,” Matt Scully said, while standing behind the counter of The Scullery on Tuesday afternoon, a steady stream of customers chatting in the background.
“It really was essential to our success.”
Scully said that without the winnings, he and his wife would not have been able to pay for the deposit, rent and equipment needed for their location at the corner of Evans and Fifth streets.
Niki Jones, program administrator for the Small Business Plan Competition, said each semester as many as 10 entrepreneurs, like the Scullys, apply for the program’s grant funding.
Jones said Tuesday the Greenville Community Development Department is working to secure a grant and is hopeful it can increase funding for a program that last year helped the city win the state Governor’s Award for being a “small business innovator.”
“Small business is tough in general and for those who have expanded their business, this program has helped them open a new avenue of revenue,” Jones said. “For those who have started a new business, I am not sure they could have done it without this fund.”
Kristie Esposito King could have made it without the program’s help in 2009, but her business would not be where it is today.
The vaulted ceilings, exposed brick and open space of the Brody Building’s upstairs suite on Evans Street perfectly matched the setting King imagined for appogee, a “unique and focused” business King co-founded to sell the cutting-edge products of Apple.
“It was more expensive than the cookie-cutter storefronts of strip malls, but it was very Apple-esque and Apple is all about aesthetics,” King said.
Since being awarded competition funding in 2010, the software specialist landed the suite downtown, added two full-time employees and expanded its clientele.
“It’s been great,” King said. “The program is at the top of our list and one we always mention when speaking with aspiring entrepreneurs in the area.”
For people wishing to enter the contest, all entries must be a for-profit business whose tangible net worth is not in excess of $7.5 million and whose average net income after federal income taxes is not in excess of $2.5 million, according to contest rules.
Entries will be required to provide profit/loss statements, federal income tax statements and other financial documents as necessary to demonstrate compliance with small business and other eligibility requirements.
All applications will receive an initial review, and a winner will be named by the Greenville Redevelopment Commission after all entries are scored on business experience, credit history, revenue projections, employee income and commercial equity.
Awards typically are made within 90 days of submission, Jones said.
Business plans must be designed in collaboration with one of the four counselors approved by the city: SCORE, Exceed Inc., ECU’s Small Business and Technology Development Center and Pitt Community College’s Small Business Center.
“It’s a great program” Scully said. “The process forces you to create a strong business plan, which is crucial for growth. We had one of our best falls, and because of this program the community is embracing a revitalization culture in Greenville.”
Contact Wesley Brown at 252-329-9579 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CityWatchdog.