Trickle Up grants helping people become successful entrepreneurs

by Becky Gillette

Published: February 19,2007

Louisa Montgomery of Shelby is proof of how a little help to a committed small business entrepreneur can go a long way. Montgomery received a $1,000 grant to help her launch her barbeque business to the next level.

Montgomery was using a small grill to cook food to sell at construction sites. The grant allowed her to buy better cooking equipment. She was able to triple the amount of food produced, and double her profits. And now Montgomery has a thriving take-out barbeque business out of her home.

Trickle Up (www.trickleup.org) is an international program. The U.S. operations provide grants to people whose income is at the poverty level. Montgomery was the first Trickle Up grant recipient in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina.
While most people helped by Trickle Up have had poverty level incomes for a long time, Hurricane Katrina sent a lot of previously middle class people into the poor house.

“Unfortunately, since Katrina a number of the entrepreneurs we are seeing are people who might have been formerly middle class who were flung into poverty by Hurricane Katrina,” said Tessa Jackson, U.S. field officer for the Delta-Gulf Coast region of Trickle Up. “One of the things I see is that people because of a disaster realize how insecure they were economically. Trickle Up is one of their last chances to help recover their business.”

Jackson said many people who were previously self employed providing a good living for their family had major business and personal losses as a result of Katrina. Now, because of circumstances beyond their control they need help to recover.

“And we are there to help,” Jackson said. “I look at it as us giving out fishing rods as opposed to fish.”h

She adds that the Mississippi Delta and Gulf Coast areas don’t have a lot of big private industries and Fortune 500 companies. Because of that, many people are willing to take the risk to open a small business.

“Trickle Up is a great program for the area because it taps into the mindsets of the people in the area,” Jackson said. “This is the culture where people will open a barbeque stand, or bake for other people. We have another entrepreneur, Vernon Jones, Biloxi, who has started a business doing floor polishing. A grant helped him get his equipment. He works at night and he gets his kids to school in the day. He has been very successful.”

The Trickle Up program started working in the Mississippi/Louisiana area in the spring of 2005 prior to Hurricane Katrina.

“Clearly if you look at the concentration of historic and endemic poverty, the Gulf Coast region is one that deserves attention from programs like Trickle Up,” said Jonah Gensler, U.S. program director for Trickle Up. “We had just started to develop partnerships and train up partner agencies in the area in the summer of ‘05. And then we all, of course, witnessed the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. That just, if anything, inspired us even more to dig in and commit to be part of the long-term solution. We work in many countries throughout the world, and we recognize the poverty here in the U.S. needs to be addressed.”

Gensler said Trickle Up isn’t a hand out, but a hand up, a head start to the first rung on the ladder. It is a tall ladder, he admits. But the idea is to get people started to build up their business dreams.

“Trickle Up believes in people and their capacity to make a difference,” Gensler said. “We empower the world’s poorest people to develop their potential and strengthen their communities. We pursue this goal in a way that encourages innovation and leadership, maximizes resources, and promotes communication and cooperation among all Trickle Up constituencies.”

Over a three-year period, Trickle Up’s target is to help over 400 entrepreneurs in the Delta-Gulf Coast Region. The organization’s biggest funder is Google. Gensler said the SBA has been a critical help and there have also been a host of other funders.

Local partners include the Gulf Coast Business Technology Center (GCBTC), a business incubator located in Biloxi. Debra Thomas, office manager with the GCBTC, said since the program started in July 2006, 94 people have attended informational seminars. Three grants have been awarded and three more are in the submission process.

Thomas said while $1,000 isn’t much, if you are starting a small home-based business or are expanding an existing one, it might just be enough to get the business off the ground.

“Once the grant is approved, the entrepreneur receives $500,” Thomas said. “He or she keeps track of their actual expenses for three months. They see us again and we send off for the other $500 for them. I think the counseling sessions are as helpful as the $1,000. There are many details when starting a business that can be easily overlooked — especially when the entrepreneur is new to business ideas.”

Thomas said Hurricane Katrina has had an impact because the grant is given based on a number of criteria with family income being highest on the list.

“So many people in the Gulf Coast are economically challenged as a direct result of the storm,” she said. “Jobs and homes were lost and some areas are still in such a state of devastation that the grant is able to make a difference.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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