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State Funds to Aid Small Businesses in Walla Walla

BIPOC entrepreneurs, veteran- and women-owned businesses and small businesses in underserved regions of Washington state, including Walla Walla County, may be eligible to receive an impact grant of up to $100,000.

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Downtown Walla Walla's main drag includes many restaurants, stores and wine tasting rooms.
(Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/MCT)
(TNS) — More than $635,000 in state funding is available to help support BIPOC entrepreneurs, developing veteran- and women-owned businesses and small businesses in underserved regions in three counties, including Walla Walla County, Wash.

The Washington State Department of Commerce's Small Business Innovation Fund, or SBIF, split $32.5 million into 22 projects across the state.

The Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, which will manage how the money is distributed in the three-county region, has created a committee of four members who all have a background in either grant funding or business to judge applications as they come in.

The committee members are Kol Medina, CEO of Blue Mountain Community Foundation; Brian Hunt of Sherwood Trust; George Perez, assistant professor of management and marketing at Walla Walla University; and Mayor Norma Hernández of College Place.

Some of the grant money will come in the form of impact grants, which small businesses in Walla Walla, Columbia and Garfield counties can apply for online. The application is available in Spanish and English.

Fifty applicants will receive the DWWF Small Business Innovation Fund Impact Award, which is a technical assistance grant, meaning the recipients will get space, assistance and support for their business, not cash.

The deadline to fill out an application for an impact grant is Feb. 28 and recipients will be notified by March 15.

Kathryn Witherington, executive director of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, said when she saw the application open for the SBIF, it felt like it was a perfect match for the business culture in Walla Walla.

"It just felt like the right fit for our community," Witherington said. "There are so many amazing, innovative businesses that are already here or that are just starting to percolate. Having the opportunity to secure some of those funds to support the dreams of those businesses felt like something we had to say yes to."

Witherington said the $635,250 award will be split between two phases with the impact grants as phase one.

Phase two, which is organized by Kindling Coworking, is the Verge Conference, a Shark Tank-style business pitch competition. Grants will be awarded that range from $1,250 to the top amount $100,000. Applications for the business pitch will open in early March and close later that same month. More details are expected in the coming weeks.

The impact grants are available to any business that made less than $100,000 in gross sales in 2022, or any business that has existed for two years or less. Priority for these funds is given to entrepreneurs of color, women-owned, rural, and veteran-owned businesses. Enterprises that exist in underserved and rural areas are able to apply as well. Entities that are tax-exempt, nonprofit or charitable trusts are not eligible.

A full list of for-profit entities that are ineligible to apply for an impact grant is available at the online application link under the eligibility section.

Those who are selected will be awarded one of the following: paid annual membership to Kindling Coworking, paid annual membership to Wonder Worx Maker Space, paid annual vendor membership for the 2023 Downtown Farmers Market season or a paid Flow LLC business formation and branding package.

Kindling Coworking offers office space that can be rented for a day, a month or as long as a business needs. Located at 103 E. Main St. in Suite 301, the space is downtown and offers amenities such as Wi-Fi, 24/7 access to the building, access to the conference room, and cold or hot brew coffee.

Wonder Worx supplies both the space and equipment for small enterprises that craft, make and construct products for their business. The space includes feature sections that range from wood and metal working to soap and candle making.

For small and new businesses that grow, make or modify any product they retail, the annual membership for a vendor spot at the Downtown Farmers Market is available. According to the DWWF, the farmers market garners a lot of foot traffic and averages about 3,000 visitors per event. The market runs every Saturday starting in May and ends in October. This award includes a 10-by-10-foot booth, a pop-up tent and a six-foot table. Assistance to help the business with the required licensing, insurance and other documents needed to operate at the market also is available.

Valued at $5,000, the Flow LLC business formation and branding package helps businesses find their identity through the creation of a logo and the curation of a website. Branding can include everything to help communicate the businesses intensions through signage, advertising, informational materials and digital presence. The business formation component includes the filing of the proper federal and state tax ID's and any required permits and or licenses needed for businesses to retail their goods.

An informational webinar is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 10, by the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation to help answer applicant questions.

"One of the things that has been so fun and challenging about this process is that I don't even know what all the questions are yet because it's happening so quickly," Witherington said. "The information session will hopefully be really valuable for people to learn about what is going on with these grants. We want to know what questions our community has, so we can find those answers if they don't yet exist."

(c)2023 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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