It was 2006, and it was a day like any other. A proud, beautiful woman walked into the Women’s Business Center to bare her soul and ask me for advice.
She’d been through hell and was looking for a path back.
Her story unfolded in front of me as tears came to her eyes…and to mine. This manicured, well-dressed, breathtakingly beautiful woman confided in me her years of abuse, a horrifying divorce and a prison-bound ex-husband.
With her pride wavering, she shared several stories of stops and starts in jobs that didn’t understand how shaken these experiences had left her and her children…how much attention her children needed from her right now…how much counseling they all would need if they were ever going to win back a new life.
They didn’t understand. And they let her go.
Over and over, they let her go.
Until her landlord did the same.
Her eyes filled with tears when she said the words…as of today, she was homeless.
Last year, she was a well-off, stay-at-home mom of two grown children and a twelve year old daughter. She was living in a large home, in a nice neighborhood, driving a late model car and getting her nails done regularly.
Today, her and her youngest daughter would be homeless. They were being evicted from a dumpy, 600 sq ft apartment in the lock-your-car-doors-at-the-intersection part of town. She rode the bus to her appointment today.
Yes. Sadly, this was a totally typical day.
The amazing thing was…no, scratch that…there were a thousand amazing things about her. The most amazing thing was her resolve. She wasn’t sitting in front of me to beg for help. Not even for a second.
This amazing woman brought a gigantic heart full of ideas. She had a plan to start her own business, get her own place and show her daughter how to be a strong, independent woman. And she was giddy with excitement to get started.
We talked about her idea, her market, her niche. We talked about how she could make money and the profit potential of her business. The plan needed some polishing, but this was actually a feasible gig.
She lit up.
I love my job.
Then, we started talking about her next steps. Before she could get started, she would need to buy some equipment, stock a few paper products, a little money for business cards, etc. I explained to get a business loan…even through our little micro-loan program…she’d need to have a credit score around…and she cut me off.
Still excited and full of energy, she confidently told me she was going to get a grant to start her business. She’d gone to a seminar a few weeks ago and they told her there were hundreds of thousands of dollars available to women who wanted to start a business…especially minority women like her. She had paid $200 for this seminar.
I cringed and my heart sank.
She was getting evicted because she spent 1/3 of her rent money on this bull shit seminar…wholeheartedly believing it would be the lifeboat she needed it to be. She had already put everything she had into this dream.
And now, I had to kill it.
I had to bust that beautiful bubble. This was…by far… the worst part of my job as the Director of the Women’s Business Center. Every second woman that walked in my door thought she was going to get a grant to launch her dream. It was my job to explain the reality.
Here’s the hard truth about grants and your business
This was my bubble bursting spiel. I always had to deliver it with a lump in my throat:
There are very few grants available to start for-profit businesses. When you do find them, they are either highly competitive contests with hundreds of thousands of entries fighting for $250 or $500, or they’re specifically for small businesses doing high level technology or research projects. Ah, and their definition of “small business” pretty much excludes micro-enterprise or people who want to start a lifestyle business that will simply allow them fund their life in a fulfilling way.
You can find grants for non-profit organizations, if you want to launch your business that way. But, again, those grantors don’t fund ideas…they fund proven programs. In almost every instance, you would need to launch your idea first and show the grantor how it’s helping their target audience. You could spend the next six months chasing grants (most likely unsuccessfully) or you can spend the next six months bootstrapping your business and making money.
And her happy glow was gone.
Her bubble was burst. Suddenly, she was wearing every moment of the last twelve months of her life. She looked completely defeated.
I hate my job.
Her story didn’t end there. She stayed and listened and followed my advice and single-handedly carried herself and her daughter out of poverty. Today, she has a new life in a new state with a new outlook. I love her. And think of her often. She is, to this day, one of my personal heroes.
But she was the exception
So many times, my clients would hear the reality and lose all hope. Most of the women that came to the Women’s Business Center were in transition. They were facing divorce or widowhood or finishing college or having a baby or empty-nesting.
All of them in the midst of a metamorphosis.
When they emerged from their cocoons ready to take on the world with a new life, it was a wonderful, magical thing to witness. However, when they retreated, stayed hidden in their cocoons, refused to take the hand that reached for them, it was so, so hard.
My staff and I were constantly battling bitterness and defeat. Our clients were beautiful, delicate bubbles of potential and, every single day we had to stick needles in them.
I was determined to change it.
It was then that I decided I would offer something better. Even if I could only change one life, help one person…I vowed that someday I would be in a position to create a real grant for these real people that want to start businesses but have no resources to do so. People who want to start a business so they can be with their children. People who want to show their kids what it looks like to take responsibility for your life.
I planned to create a training program and a grant program that would give these authentic people the tools they need to have the life they want.
Dizzyingly, taunting epiphanies
A few weeks ago, I announced that I’m developing StartUp Yours, the business basics course for the whole family. Since then, my inbox has been feeling the love from entrepreneurial parents who love the idea of growing their business while teaching their kids how to do the same. I was happily engulfed in course-building frenzy.
Then, last weekend, I had an epiphany. Holy cow! This is it! This is me sitting in the “right position” to do what I’ve wanted to do for…like…ever!
I had to stop and breathe. This was one of those ah-ha moments that hit hard and then run away screaming “nanny nanny boo boo” taunting you to chase them down. I was a little dizzy. I told my husband about it, thinking he’d talk me down. No. He was dizzy to. So, we decided I had to do it.
The StartUp Yours Grant Fund!
- For every enrollment in the StartUp Yours course, I will put $20 into the StartUp Yours Grant Fund.
- Sponsored enrollments! If you don’t feel like you need to take a basic start up course, you can still be a part of it by sponsoring enrollment for someone else!
- You can specify a person for your sponsorship (gift it, choose a client or maybe even run a contest) or you can leave your sponsored enrollment as an open spot in the class.
- One week before the course opens, I will hold a drawing for all of the open sponsored spots. That means a whole handful of people will be able to take this course for free…which makes me all warm and squishy inside.
- People will be able to enter to get a free spot by tweeting, sharing, commenting and recommending the course to their friends. I’ll have more details on all of that later.
- I will double the contribution to the grant fund for every sponsored enrollment. That means $40 of every sponsored enrollment will go into the grant fund!
- The grant will be open to everyone in the class. I’ll cap enrollment in the course at 125 people, so I can give personal attention and advice to everyone who wants it.
- That means each person in the class will have a 1 in 125 (at the highest) chance in getting the funds.
- The grant isn’t going to be given to someone based on luck of the draw. Everyone who wants the money will have a chance to earn it by submitting a compelling grant application at the end of the course.
- The application will be simple (if you’ve played along during the class). It will include a one page business plan, an explanation of what you’d like to use the money for and your family’s story…where you started, what you learned so far and where you’re headed.
- If we fill the class, the grant fund will be somewhere between $2500 and $5000 (depending on how many enrollments are sponsored).
Am I the only one with goosebumps?
I need your help to make this happen
I need you to spread the word
I’ve been doing this work for a very long time, but I’m a new face online. I haven’t yet earned my big megaphone.
So I need to borrow your voices. All of them. Whether you have a big readership or just a few friends online, please share this opportunity with them. You can use the tweet or share buttons below. Or copy and paste the link in an email. Or talk about us while you’re having coffee.
Don’t worry about competing against your friends for the money. In the end, it isn’t really about the money because everyone wins. Everyone will get the awesome ten weeks of training. Everyone will meet wonderfully supportive people in the message boards. Everyone will have a plan for growing their idea into a profit making business. So, share this with your friends so you can have all of this fun together.
I need to know what you’d like to learn in the course
I have an course outline, and I’m developing the lessons now based on what my clients have needed in the past. But I would scrap it all and start over if that’s what it took to give you exactly what you need out of the course. You can tell me in the comments below.
I may need an extra set of hands…or three
I will be assembling a grant review panel. I’d love to add a few expert interviews to the course plan. And, if we fill the class, I may need another person to help me provide expert advice & feedback in the course message boards. If you’d like to be on the review panel or have expertise to lend for an interview or for the message boards, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll send you the details, we can see if there’s a good fit and move forward from there.
Thank you everyone for helping me make this possible! I’ll be launching the StartUp Yours website soon with lots more details about the course and the grant. So, stay tuned!!