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New round of funds ready for exporters

SBA approves state for $480,000 in fiscal ‘19

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Nearly $500,000 in grant funds is available for Missouri small businesses seeking to enter or expand into the international marketplace.

The State Trade and Export Promotion grant program aims to increase the number of small businesses that are exporting, as well as the value of current exports. The U.S. Small Business Administration recently awarded $480,000 to the Missouri Department of Economic Development to distribute to eligible businesses.

“This money is set aside to grow small business,” said David Hayford, co-owner of Springfield invention Tether Tug dog toy, who has received about $20,000 through STEP grants over the past five years.

Hayford has utilized the funds for partial reimbursement of expenses for event fees, hotels and flights connected with domestic trade shows that have a strong international component. Those are among reimbursable expenses allowed in the program.

He hopes to add to the total next year by attending additional trade shows, including one in Germany.

The target audience is small businesses with up to 500 employees. To qualify, the U.S.-based company must be in business for at least one year, operate profitably, ready to export and demonstrate export sales potential and intent, according to the DED. The grant is capped at $15,000 annually for reimbursable expenses, including exporting trade shows, trade missions and foreign language translation of a website.

STEP grants are provided in conjunction with the federal fiscal year, which begins in October. Funds are made available every two years, said Ann Pardalos, managing director for the Missouri International Trade and Investment Office, a division of the DED. The DED received $350,000 from the SBA in 2017, she said.

“It’s a competitive process, so we have to submit applications to receive funding,” Pardalos said, adding money is typically expended in less than 12 months of the two-year span. “We sell out very quickly. It typically serves about 100 companies. It’s on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Springfield-based Date Lady Inc. has been involved in exporting since around 2014 after learning about STEP at a chamber event earlier that year, said Clarissa Young, the company’s project manager. Date Lady, started in 2012 by Colleen Sundlie, produces organic, date-based products, including syrup, sugar and chocolate sauce. Young said barbecue sauce and sweet chili sauce were added to the company’s product line this year.

Date Lady currently ships outside of the United States in Taiwan, Canada, Australia, Peru and Chile, she said, and is looking at Mexico and Europe as future options. However, she said international shipping only makes up about 5% or less of the company’s business, declining to disclose annual sales.

The company has used the STEP grant to attend trade shows that have an international focus, such as the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City, both organized by the Specialty Food Association Inc. Grant funds reimburse up to 70%, or $5,000 maximum, for trade show costs and 50%, or $1,000 maximum, for airfare, according to the SBA.

“We’re very appreciative of that program,” Young said. “For small companies like us, that’s huge. We probably wouldn’t even be able to go to these trade shows if not for these grants.”

Hayford has attended the Global Pet Expo multiple times in Orlando, Florida, to market Tether Tug with help from STEP funds. The product, a rope on a fiberglass stick that anchors into the ground for dogs to chase around, was created in 2011. It is sold in roughly 500 retailers nationwide, Hayford said, as well as Canada, Australia, China, Japan and the United Kingdom. He said about 20,000 units are sold each year.

“When we go to these shows, we make a conscious effort targeting international businesses,” he said, noting more overseas revenue could realistically boost sales to 100,000 units per year. “We’d like to go into Asia more and have a broader impact in the U.K.”

Hayford has only used the grant funds for domestic trade shows, but he’s next eyeing Interzoo, which is billed as the world’s largest trade fair for the international pet industry. The next edition is set for May 2020 in Nuremberg, Germany.

If he attends Interzoo, Hayford expects his reimbursement request would be roughly $7,500.

Pardalos expects the grant funds will disappear quickly. She anticipates funds would be divvied out by fourth quarter 2020.

“That’s a good thing,” she said. “That justifies to the SBA that Missouri is using the funds and that’s taken into consideration for future proposals and awards.”

Comments

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Heather Noggle

I love to see articles about exports! 96% of potential customers are outside of the US!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019
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