Joining a local accelerator program was an important factor in successfully securing grants for my community-based business.
Joining this program was truly eye-opening.
Accelerator programs have the purpose of helping businesses (usually start-ups) accelerate their business growth.
When you join a program like this, you get access to advisors who will help you further develop your idea, get clear on your business model, and connect you with investors.
In the early spring of 2022, I joined a local accelerator program called SCAPE and started learning more about grant funding and outside investors.
Before that, I wasn’t really aware of grants, and I definitely wasn’t aware that this could be a reality for my business.
Dilutive Vs. Non-Dilutive Funding
I knew about investment companies, private equity, and angel investors, where another business invests money into your business in order to have equity or a percentage of ownership.
This is considered dilutive funding.
For example, if I were to take money from an outside investor, they, in return, would get a percentage of my business. So that would mean I no longer owned 100% of my company, and therefore have diluted my ownership.
Whereas grants are effectively free money.
There are some strings attached to grants, but for the most part, grants are non-dilutive.
They grant you money for a purpose, but they’re not getting any ownership stake in your business.
I never in a million years thought that this would be something that was available to my company. Now that I stop to think about it, I’m not sure why, but I just didn’t.
Until I joined SCAPE and learned about the AI (Advanced Industries) Grant in Colorado.
Grant Funding Applications
I was aware of the AI Grant in Colorado but didn’t seriously consider it because I just assumed I wouldn’t be eligible. After all, “advanced industries” sounds super fancy.
That changed when I overheard a conversation between a business owner and a member of the public.
It was the end of May 2022, and I was with my husband at this event in Flagstaff, Arizona, called the Overland Expo. We were there looking at an in-bed camper made by a company called Supertramp Campers.
I remember I was walking around the side of the camper when I overheard the conversation, in which the man was talking about how the company had recently been awarded $250,000 in free money from the state of Colorado.
At that moment, my ears perked up – hang on, what is he talking about?
I immediately Googled it, and sure enough, it came up. The very same grant that SCAPE had been telling me about.
The very same grant that I didn’t really think I would be eligible for.
At this time, I hadn’t decided whether I’d go for it or not.
But when I overheard him say that they received it, I thought to myself: if a company that makes campers received an Advanced Industries grant, maybe GeekPack could, too.
At that point, I decided to look into this in more detail.
And so I did.
Colorado Advanced Industries Grant
After a lot of research, I decided: I’m doing it. I’m applying for a $250,000 state grant.
It was September 1st, 2022.
This first application was very time-consuming. It’s a very long grant, and this first time around, I did it completely by myself.
I had never applied for a grant before, and despite getting some advice from SCAPE and having a letter of support from them, I didn’t really know what I was doing.
I felt like there was a lot of momentum around that time, from finishing the SCAPE Accelerator program to signing a partnership with Udemy and launching our new membership.
I had good letters of support and heard from other people familiar with this grant that it was a very strong application. They thought I had a really good chance.
So there was nothing more to do except wait for the results.
The Accelerate(HER) Fund
While working on my Advanced Industries Grant application, I got an email from Brittany, one of my advisors in SCAPE.
It was called The Accelerate(HER) Fund, and it was for $50,000.
As I had done all of that work for the AI grant application, I decided to apply using the same copy.
I am very good at procrastinating and doing things last minute (in fact, I do some of my best work last minute). And for both of these applications, I definitely left it down to the wire.
So it was a huge relief to hit submit because it was such a big thing taking up a lot of my time.
Even though I submitted the AI grant application first, Hello Alice’s results came in before AI’s.
I was caught off guard on a call with the program officers when they asked me: What would you do if $50,000 just appeared in your business bank account?
My immediate answer was – I’d hire more team members for GeekPack.
And to that, they replied, “Well, you’d better get your job descriptions ready, because you’ve received the grant.”
Just like that, I had $50,000 extra dollars to bring GeekPack closer to our long-term vision.
This moment and this grant were a turning point for me, making it possible to reach the next level. I was so overcome with joy and gratitude (and shock, frankly) that I started crying right there on the phone.
The news from the Advanced Industries grant came a few weeks after that.
I remember this very clearly – I was sitting in a chair in the living room when I saw the email come in on a Friday afternoon.
It was not what I was hoping for; I got a devastating no.
I immediately burst into tears and felt like I had disappointed everyone around me. I felt like I disappointed my team and the community.
I felt like this was a big setback in the business growth.
And it was just a real knock to my pride. I was sure I had such a strong application.
But even among all these feelings, when I saw that I didn’t get it, I knew immediately that the AI grant opens twice per year, and I would reapply.
And I remember thinking to myself, “They’re going to get sick of seeing me reapply, and reapply, and reapply – as many times as it takes.”
Reapplying For The Colorado AI Grant
It was disappointing to get a no, but it was also very reassuring to know that another organization had believed in us.
We had $50k from Hello Alice, and that was an incredible boost to try and get the AI grant again.
So on March 1st, 2023, I submitted this application for the second time.
About a month later (one year after I overheard that conversation), I got an email saying we were awarded the grant.
For this second application, two things made a huge difference:
1. B2B | Wyoming Women’s Business Center
Around November 2022, one of my mentors from SCAPE introduced me to someone at Wyoming Women’s Business Center (and again, everything comes back to how valuable this accelerator program was).
We got on a call, and I told her about our new membership program, The GeekPack Collective, and how we’re expanding.
We had just signed a partnership with Udemy in September, and we wanted to work with other organizations and start our B2B side of the business.
We launched The GeekPack Collective in January 2023, and we also signed a B2B contract with the Wyoming Women’s Business Center, which has put women through the program with custom digital marketing cohorts based on the needs of their community.
This was the beginning of GeekPack Partners.
This second grant application was very specific to our B2B program and how we would dedicate a full-time team member to running it.
2. Working With A Professional Writer
It was also around that time that I started working with Ashley, who was doing some copywriting for the membership and who also used to be a grant writer.
This time around, I had her work on the application copy with me, and her skills made a huge difference. I remember Ashley telling me that the grant application needed to tell a story.
She did a phenomenal job at applying for funding by telling a story about where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re going.
Because of this, I had a much stronger application with a B2B case study and a very specific goal for this funding.
And this second application was not only accepted but it was fast-tracked.
I didn’t need to go before the board. I didn’t need to present or justify to anyone.
They really believed in the GeekPack Partners Program and wanted it to happen. So they actually fast-tracked the application, which was a huge validation, especially after not getting the grant in the first round.
Why You Should Consider Grants For Your Online Business
It’s safe to say that these grants had a huge impact on my business.
Here are a few reasons why I think you should also start considering this for your business.
Grant Money Is Non-Dilutive Money
As I mentioned before, grants don’t dilute any of your ownership. You get the money, and you get to keep 100% of your company.
Applications Copy Can Be Repurposed
The language we used for the second AI grant application, specifically about the B2B, has been repurposed for so many other things.
- Other grant applications.
- Applying for local, national & international business organizations.
- Joining another accelerator program (TVX-W).
Getting this grant was also how we set up our B2B, the newest initiative of the business.
Without this money, we wouldn’t have been able to start the GeekPack Partners program, and we now have a full-time employee running it.
When you are awarded a grant, other organizations are more likely to say yes to you.
Because someone else already believed in you and validated your idea, it is less risky for them to do the same.
This brings us to the last one.
One of the biggest takeaways from this process has been the validation; all these outside organizations see the value in my business.
Whether it’s a privately funded organization, such as Hello Alice, or a state fund, such as the Advanced Industries Colorado grant, all of these people believe in what we’re doing, want to support it, and see it come to fruition.
That’s a huge boost of confidence. And that’s probably been one of the biggest impacts these grants have had on me as a business owner.
The Impact Of $300,000 And What It Means For GeekPack
Getting $300,000 of free money means a lot.
It allowed me to invest in team members and cover some hard costs, but the most impactful result was gaining the ability to fund a new program before we actually had any revenue from it.
GeekPack has a big vision: We are changing the face of tech forever by bringing over 1 million voices into the conversation by 2030.
Our B2B arm of the business partners with mission-driven organizations, such as Economic & Workforce Development and employers striving to uplift communities and close the digital skills gap.
This allows us to expand our reach and impact other communities as well.
So GeekPack Partners is how we will reach 1 million people, and these grants are helping us get this new venture off the ground and scale it before it actually starts to make money.
Final Thoughts On Grant Funding
This whole process was not only validating for me – it validated our business model.
It was validating for the GeekPack team and what we’ve built so far.
It was validating for our community.
And a lot of this comes back to my personal why and our company’s mission – which is reach and impact.
I wouldn’t have this amazing team if every single one of us didn’t believe in what we’re doing and the impact we’re having.
Because, at the end of the day, GeekPack is bigger than me. GeekPack is bigger than every person on the team. It’s bigger than our community.
And the best part? Everyone gets to be a part of it.
Featured Image: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock