Many people don’t realize how hard it can be for a “mom and pop” business to borrow a small amount of money. Lenders typically don’t want to deal in loans under $50,000.

Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union not only noticed the “void in the community for small business lending” says TVFCU marketing specialist Jessica McCosh, they decided to do something about it.

In late 2016, TVFCU launched the “Idea Leap Loan” program that makes loans of under $50,000 to qualifying small businesses. They’ve lent over $2 million in the last three years.

But TVFCU didn’t stop there. As a nonprofit, says McCosh, the credit union invests back into the community. TVFCU decided to take some of the profits from their Idea Leap Loans and establish an Idea Leap Grant program — money that a business would not have to pay back.

One-hundred businesses applied for an Idea Leap Grant this year. Judges whittled the applications down to 20, then to 10.

On Oct. 22, at TVFCU’s second annual Idea Leap Grant awards, the ten finalists presented formal pitches similar to those on the program “Shark Tank.” Presenters shared why they would like an Idea Leap Grant and will be judged on five criteria: community impact, innovativeness, impact on business growth, sustainability of the business and on the quality of the presentation.

Two Georgia businesses made it to the final ten: Treetop Hideaways of Flintstone and Real Roots Café of Fort Oglethorpe. They have a chance of winning one of five grant amounts: $20,000, $15,000, $10,000 or one of two $2,500 grants.

Treetop Hideaways, owned by Enoch Elwell, is a small business that builds and rents out luxury tree houses as places to vacation. Joy Taylor, general manager of Treetop Hideaways, says the business would use its grant to establish systems for expansion. “We have two tree houses now,” she says, “but we’d like to eventually have ten, a tree house village.”

Real Roots Café, owned by Matthew and Tiffany Lake, is a full service café and smoothie bar that offers 100% plant-based food and drinks on-site, as well as meals that can be baked at home. The owners say they would like to expand the line of foods they offer, open a second location in downtown Chattanooga and offer more education in the community and in schools about healthy eating habits.

Pitch Night — the big night when finalists present and are chosen — took place Oct. 22 at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, 200 E. M. L. King Blvd., Chattanooga.

The eight Chattanooga businesses that are also in the final running and presented on Pitch Night are: Chatta Cakes Bakery, Elea Blake Cosmetic Studio, Hank’s Corner Grille, Hutton and Smith Brewing Company, Live and Let Live Barber Shop, The Rustic House, Spectacles Family EyeCare and Terra Running Company.

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.

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