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Micro Seeds Sprout Success

Micro Seed Fund Helps Entrepreneurs Grow Their Businesses

rhonda and Drewshika pic together2

Entrepreneurs have many costs associated with getting their businesses up and running: marketing, supplies, website and insurance – just to name a few.

Thanks to a partnership between the WCTC Small Business Center (SBC) and Bank Five Nine, money is available through the Micro Seed Fund (MSF) loan program to those who successfully complete the eight-course Small Business Certificate.

Helping Companies with Start-up Costs

Russ Roberts, SBC manager, said the MSF started in 2017, and to date, a dozen entrepreneurs have applied and received loans. The MSF is an unsecured loan, generally $5,000 but sometimes more, payable over a five-year term at 1 percent interest.

"Start-up entrepreneurs typically have challenges finding traditional funding through banks, since they have no track record," Roberts said. "The MSF provides a simple, streamlined process for those accessing needed funds."

Roberts, along with Paul Decker, SBC instructor, founder of Renegade Thinking Group and chairman of the Waukesha County Board of Supervisors, worked closely with Bank Five Nine to establish this type of loan. Vice President-Retail Banking District Manager Todd Scheid said the bank, which is a nationally recognized and leading Small Business Association lender in the state, embraced the idea.

"Many of these, being startups, are looking to get off the ground and gain momentum. Our expertise is in working with small business owners as their trusted financial partner throughout their continued journey," Scheid said.

Added Decker: "They’re willing to help people who don’t necessarily have a lot of cash flow. For some, this is really at the ground level and it gives them a foothold into a banking relationship."

Awarding Funds to Entrepreneurs

In order to acquire the MSF money, applicants must be well prepared, Decker explained. They have a thorough preparation session with Decker and Roberts; and then a formal business plan presentation and discussion with Decker, Roberts and Scheid. In the latter interview, Scheid hears directly from the applicant about their small business, how they intend to use the loan and details of their business plan, including competition, target markets and more.

"Quite honestly, the business plans that come forth from the MSF borrowers are as extensive as it gets," Scheid said.

The types of small businesses that are being developed run the gamut, Decker said, and usually fill a unique niche. Entrepreneurs he has met with have included a deer specialist who helps hunters maximize ways to track and hunt; a leather crafter who makes items using environmentally friendly processes; a home inspection company that offers specialty, add-on services – and others.

Small Business Success Stories

Two entrepreneurs, Rhonda Noordyk and Drewshika Watkins, said the SBC certificate and the MSF loan have helped propel their businesses forward.

Noordyk founded the Women’s Financial Wellness Center in 2014, which is dedicated to empowering women and providing them with knowledge, tools and resources to navigate through the divorce process, with a focus on financial aspects. In 2017, she was also teaching classes in the SBC – but she became a student to finish the certificate. She applied for and was awarded the first MSF loan.

The process of working with Bank Five Nine was extremely positive, she recalls, as it helped her grow her business and establish a long-term relationship with the bank.

"I felt like they were the first people throughout my journey who read my actual business plan....They told me how grateful they were for the opportunity to be able to invest in my business," she said. "They have a real sense of community and are heart-centered people."

Since then, her business has flourished:  she has two full-time employees, partnerships with several consultants, a successful top-rated podcast and clients throughout the country. She’s also planning to open a separate business focusing on divorce mediation.

Watkins, who is a licensed social worker, recently founded Peek-a-Boo Prenatal Care Coordination. Her business provides access to medical, social, educational and other services to pregnant women who are at high risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes. She completed the SBC certificate in fall, and applied for and received the MSF loan shortly thereafter.

Her love of working with children and mothers was a catalyst for her business. As a mother, herself, to two young children, Watkins said she was blessed with a network of support during her own pregnancies – something not all women have.

"I think a huge part that’s lacking (in services for expectant mothers) is mental health; there’s a gap there. My goal for my company is to incorporate mental health into everything I do," she said. "I want to provide case management and really be an advocate."

She launched her business in January, and the encouragement she received from the SBC and Bank Five Nine made her entrepreneurial goal a reality.

"When I started taking classes for the certificate, I had no I idea how I would manage it all – but I did! (Paul, Russ and Todd) took the time to learn my story, and then help me convey my story out loud," she said. "The loan helped with different costs to get the business started."