Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and offbeat ideas that find success in rural America and Midwestern startup centers outside of metropolitan Kansas City. This series is possible thanks to Go Topekawhich seeks economic success for all businesses and citizens throughout Shawnee County through the implementation of an aggressive economic development strategy that leverages the unique strengths of the community.
TOPEKA — A targeted small business incentive program is helping Capital City entrepreneurs grow their businesses faster and save money during the startup process.
When his family settled in Topeka in late 2021 after living in an RV for a couple years, veteran video producer Thomas Hicks knew he needed to rebuild his arsenal of equipment to serve his new customer base. .
So Hicks, founder and executive producer of Story Factory, applied for and received a $5,000 matching equipment grant from Go Topeka in the first quarter of 2022, investing the money in new lights, stands, a tripod and a second camera, among others. other items. .
Had the small business incentive program through Go Topeka not been available, Hicks said, he would have been forced to put all expenses on a credit card and pay interest over a longer period of time.
“It would have just been another $5,000 of fighting, because when you’re looking to start a small business, $5,000 is a lot of extra money,” Hicks said.
In addition to the cost savings, Hicks said having the proper equipment gave Story Factory the added credibility it needed to impress its customers.
“There’s this perception from customers that when you show up with four or five cases of high-quality equipment and you have a couple of high-end cameras, that tells your customer that it’s important and that this project is real.” Hicks said. “That confidence you get from having the right equipment has value in itself.”
Packed with high quality requests
Go Topeka’s grant programs are intended to make it easier for small business owners to invest in their companies, which in turn benefits the entire Topeka and Shawnee County community, said Laurie Pieper, vice president of the entrepreneurship and small business of Go Topeka.
“The purpose is to incentivize and assist small businesses to make investments in their businesses that will contribute to the economic growth of our community,” Pieper said.
The small business incentive program will award $500,000 in 2023, up from $300,000 in 2022, across four application windows.
The budget increase was necessary, Pieper said, because Go Topeka was receiving more high-quality applications than the organization could afford to fully fund.
“There were a few projects last year where, because we were trying to spread the money out and benefit as many companies as possible, we weren’t able to fund them to the full amount,” said Pieper.
“This [budget increase] it will do two things,” he continued. “Hopefully it will allow us to provide incentives to more companies and also provide incentives at slightly higher amounts.”
The incentive program has nine categories, including marketing, equipment, construction and renovation, all evaluated and awarded separately, Pieper said. Companies can apply for funding in multiple areas.
This ensures an “apples to apples comparison,” he added, noting that even companies that aren’t shortlisted get business advice and resources from Go Topeka on how to bolster their demand for the next cycle.
Click Here for a complete list of eligibility requirements.
Once approved, business owners can then spend the agreed amount of money on necessary equipment, renovations, marketing or other expenses, up to half of which will be reimbursed by Go Topeka.
“It’s often difficult for companies to cobble together the funding they need to get started and grow fast enough to really be as successful as they have the potential to be,” Pieper said. “So we’re not just trying to give away money. We’re trying to help people grow up and stay here.”
Overcome the mountain
Veronica McPike and Stephanie Sisk, co-founders of Merit Weight Loss, also received grants as part of the incentive program in early 2022.
The founding duo actually received funding in three separate categories: construction and renovation, equipment and marketing, so they could open their business by June 1st.
The grants have allowed Merit Weight Loss to do a “near total renovation” of the building it occupies, Sisk said, as well as helping them purchase a body composition machine and some marketing materials.
“It really allowed us to launch our business without loans and debt, which was huge,” Sisk said. “It was great.”
Sisk said the couple were ready to “pay the bill” by tapping into their shared savings and taking out a business loan, but admitted the incentive program paybacks made the process much more enjoyable.
“By starting your own small business, you’re already leaving a regular paying job, which is terrifying,” Sisk said. “And then, on top of that, having to get over this hump, or mountain, of bills that you’re trying to get over by renovating your space, getting all the supplies you need.”
“This really helped us get off to a clean start where we could really focus on our business and grow and continue to provide for our families,” Sisk continued. “It really gave us some peace of mind and allowed us to really enjoy the process of starting a business. It really helped relieve that pressure significantly.
We actually want to spend the money
In addition to providing economic development opportunities in and around Topeka, what really sets the small business incentive program apart is its uniqueness, Pieper said.
“These are quite unique to our organization serving Topeka and Shawnee County,” Pieper said. “I don’t know of any other community that has a program like this.”
Hicks, who said he’s been running video production companies in various cities and states for the past 25 years, echoed those sentiments.
“Even in the bigger cities, there didn’t seem to be — certainly not the promotion of — but also the hands-on, ready-to-help programs that we found here,” Hicks said.
“I think it’s unique to Topeka,” Hicks added. “Part of this isn’t just the program, because I’m sure there are other programs out there. But what I think is unique is the seriousness with which it is promoted. … Those that exist in other places, they almost hide them. It’s like they don’t want to spend the money. It’s very different here.”
Sisk and McPike said they feel the same way, with Sisk noting that his friends in other cities marvel at the financial support Merit Weight Loss receives.
“I think Topeka in general is doing a great job of trying to support small businesses,” Sisk said. “When I’ve talked to friends in other cities who have thought about going out and doing their own thing, there’s nothing like it in their city. They say, ‘It’s crazy that you were able to start like this.’”
Now, Sisk said he makes sure to inform any business owner or small business owner in Topeka about the incentive program.
“I tell everyone,” he said. “Anyone who’s even thinking about doing their own thing, I’m like, ‘Go check it out, because that’s really a huge plus.'”
This series is possible thanks to Go Topeka.
Go Topeka seeks economic success for all businesses and citizens throughout Shawnee County through the implementation of an aggressive economic development strategy that leverages the unique strengths of the community.