Additional details about future rounds of the Small Business Innovation Fund will be available here in late January 2021.
Thank you for your creative entrepreneurship and service to our community. You make this place better.
If you have any questions, please reach out to: firstname.lastname@example.org
As we receive more questions about the fund, we will be posting those questions and answers below for additional insights and application assistance.
Who do I contact for assistance?
- If you have questions about Round 3 and need additional program insights, please send an email to: email@example.com with the subject line “Need Round 3 Insight.”
- If you have technical questions about the application process, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will I receive confirmation that my application has been accepted? Yes, you will receive a confirmation email once your application has been successfully submitted.
I’ve never heard about the Small Business Innovation Fund before so what’s the story with Rounds 1 and 2?
During the last three months, Charlotte Center City Partners, in partnership with Foundation For The Carolinas and with a lead gift from Honeywell, have launched two rounds of the Small Business Innovation Fund to make grants to small businesses to spur innovation and adaptation to the new reality of economic life with a highly contagious virus. The 34 first round recipients are currently investing in e-commerce and digital enhancements to better vie for customers attention, outdoor investments to create new revenue streams, mobility plays to meet customers new norms, contactless delivery options to lessen crowding, new products and services aligning with customers changing spending patterns, and infrastructure and equipment upgrades to better control their own operations.
The application window for Round 2 closed on September 18th and recipients for that round will be announced during the week of October 21st. More information about Round 1 and Round 2 can be found on Charlotte Center City Partners website.
Honeywell, Foundation For The Carolinas, and Charlotte Center City Partners designed the fund because Center City is fortunate to have hundreds of restaurants, breweries, bakeries, coffee shops, salons, retailers, food trucks and other small businesses. Together, these businesses create the vibrancy and character that residents, visitors, workers, and major employers crave, and they distinguish Center City as an essential economic engine for the region.
But these entrepreneurs built their businesses to be fully open to the general public and are reliant on foot traffic for customers. Small businesses need to invest in supplies, training, design, technology, operations, infrastructure and/or furnishings to adapt their operations or business models. Many will need to pivot their business model. Businesses will need to innovate to stay competitive and advance. Supporting storefront small business entrepreneurs as they navigate the new economic reality will make all the difference in our success and future competitiveness as an urban economy.
The Small Business Innovation Fund will leverage lessons learned from the initial two rounds to administer a distinct third round with $1.5 million of CARES funds from the City of Charlotte. Round 3 will be able to help small businesses innovate located throughout the City of Charlotte and help create a more resilient vibrancy that residents, visitors, workers, and major employers crave. Charlotte has a strong history of leveraging private-public partnerships to pull off innovative and courageous moves embodied within the Small Business Innovation Fund: Round 3 – All of CLT.
I applied in Round 1 and Round 2, so what are the differences with Round 3?
In Round 3…
- There are no geographical priorities. The eligible geography is all of the City of Charlotte.
- There are no business-ownership priorities for minority, women, or veteran-owned businesses.
- A small business must already have a physical presence in the City of Charlotte. In Rounds 1 and 2, a business could be eligible if they planned to expand into the eligible area.
- A small business will either request a grant for $20,000 or $40,000. If it is a joint application from multiple City of Charlotte businesses, the request may exceed $40,000 at the discretion of the Review Committee.
- If a small business already applied in Round 1 and Round 2, the small business MUST apply again in Round 3. There is no rolling into Round 3 from Round 2. Round 3 is a distinct process.
Will every business that applies receive a grant? No, we predict demand to exceed available funds, and this is a competitive grant process. After the third round of applications closes at noon on November 9, 2020, the review committee will evaluate and prioritize applications for funding. Applicants will be notified of their status by December 30, 2020.
Is this a loan? No. This is an investment our greater community is making in you because we need you and we believe in you. Make the City of Charlotte and the region stronger together.
Can I use these funds to cover day-to-day operating expenses, like payroll, vendor payments, losses, utilities, rent, or mortgage? Unfortunately, no. The intent of these limited funds is to help businesses make an innovative investment to adapt to this crisis and be able to be more resilient to future uncertainties.
What can I use funds for? Funds can be used for – but are not limited to – these kinds of expenses:
- Technical assistance and advising
- Investing in online presence and e-commerce platforms
- Investing in systems and packaging to allow for contactless distribution of product
- Business coaching
- Investing in online and digital consumer experience
- Marketing related to the adaptations you are making (new product, service, mode of experience)
- Infrastructure enhancements to lessen crowding, maintain safe distances between customers and associates, and enable safe product testing, try-on, and fittings
- Investments in keeping font-line associates protected
- Not limited to the categories above – be creative.
Can I use these funds to pay for all my investment? You could, but applications that demonstrate some “skin in the game” for the investment will align better. We want to partner!
Can I use these funds to enhance my on-line and/or e-commerce business? We know many businesses are relying more on revenues from on-line purchases. This is just one example of how businesses are adapting to the effects of social distancing, and we are looking to support these investments and other creative ones.
Can I use these funds for marketing? Application review will give greater weight to proposals focused on adaptations, so general marketing is less likely to align than marketing related to your innovative investments.
Who is reviewing applications? A committee will review the applications for the fund. The committee will reflect the City of Charlotte’s varied subject matter expertise and diverse population with representatives from the private, public and philanthropic sectors.
How does this fund relate to other local programs available through the City, County, or others? There are currently several other programs providing much needed resources to small businesses for COVID-19 impacts. The Small Business Innovation Fund is just one of the tools for small businesses, but there are a few distinguishing features enabling this fund to complement those other critical resources. Those features include:
- If a business has received funds from other programs, they are still eligible for this fund because its designed to help businesses innovate and advance, which differs from COVID-19 relief programs. Successfully accessing other programs for day-to-day expenses could be used to illustrate a business’s financial resiliency and a readiness to innovate.
- Applying to other programs might be helpful for filling out this application because an applicant will be able to reuse basic business information.
- Innovative investments made on or after March 1, 2020 are eligible for grant funding.
- Grants for joint applications from multiple City of Charlotte businesses may exceed $40,000 at the discretion of the Review Committee.
Will I have to document how the funds were utilized? Yes, grant recipients will be required to respond to a survey documenting how the funds were utilized as well as participate in interviews to share their lessons learned.
Where is the funding coming from? City of Charlotte CARES funding.
What is the average amount of grant to be awarded? The minimum amount is $20,000 and the maximum amount is $40,000 for each business. If multiple businesses have formulated an innovative idea that will advance all their companies and they submit one collaborative application the fund has the ability to award more than $40,000. At this point in time, we do not know the average grant size for Round 3 nor do we have a goal of creating an average at a certain amount.
Can the grant be used to reimburse funds for equipment that will need to be purchased before the grant is delivered? Yes. You can use these funds to reimburse innovations you’ve made to adapt and advance your business if they were made after March 1, 2020.
How confidential is my application? Businesses’ confidential information (i.e. financial information) will be absolutely be protected and not shared beyond the review committee process. If an applicant receives a grant, there will be interviews to document and share their lessons learned about the innovation and how it advanced the business and not about a business’s confidential information.
How do you define the Charlotte region, for the purposes of business eligibility? We define the Charlotte region as the 15-county area served by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. There is a map here.
Is a company that has been launched virtually during this time eligible? Is moving the business into a brick & mortar space an innovative project? Yes, if the company meets all the other criteria. The aspect of being a new company or totally virtual does not make the company ineligible for the fund. Since the company is so new and has probably not filed taxes yet or have other full-bodied financial documents, the company will have to figure out how to demonstrate some way of financial durability. The idea of taking the business from being virtual to a physical space in the City of Charlotte could be an innovation the fund could help with. We’re interested in learning more.
Are food trucks eligible? Yes! Here’s how:
- The business should be headquartered in the Charlotte-region. See Charlotte region definitions below. AND
- The food truck must operate in a regular, permitted location in the Small Business Innovation Fund eligible area (City of Charlotte). That could include a few different kinds of operations:
- A valid, permitted spot in the Tryon Street Vending Program, or
- A valid, permitted spot in the On Street Food Truck Program permitted by CDOT and managed by Charlotte Center City Partners, or
- A partnership with a private property owner in the eligible area to operate the food truck on their property on a regular basis. Property owner must hold a valid annual permit from the City of Charlotte to host food trucks on private property. Written permission from the property owner (an e-mail is fine), explaining the partnership with the food truck should be submitted as a PDF in the Business Verification field of the application.
Are bars and restaurants eligible? Yes!
Are there revenue requirements for this fund? There are no requirements.
I own a business with several locations, can I apply for every location? You may only submit one application for all locations in the City of Charlotte.
My headquarters is not based in the Charlotte region, but my business has a physical location and provides services in the City of Charlotte. Am I eligible to apply? No, only businesses headquartered within the Charlotte region are eligible.
Are nonprofits eligible? Yes, nonprofits are eligible for the fund, but the innovative project they are seeking funding for needs to be associated with producing revenue. One simplified example is a museum gift shop. The museum is eligible if it is headquartered in the Charlotte region, has a physical location within the City of Charlotte, had less than 50 employees as of March 1, 2020, has been adversely impacted by COVID-19, and is willing to participate in lesson-sharing interviews. The museum submits an application making a compelling case how the gift shop creates a unique experience for the neighborhood as well as provides character and vibrancy to the City of Charlotte. The application includes an innovative project that enables the gift shop to adapt to the new economic realities. The funds requested goes towards advancing the innovative project that others could possibly leverage to make the City of Charlotte and the region’s economy more resilient to this crisis and future ones.
If you have additional questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to email@example.com.