First-Ever Initiative of its Kind: Advancing Island County & Skagit County Businesses Through a New State-Funded Small Business Innovation Fund
Free Business Services: Accelerators, Bootcamps, Grant Funds, Technology Tools, Mentors, and More
The Economic Development Council for Island County (Island County EDC) submitted a bold proposal to the Washington Department of Commerce’s Small Business Innovation Fund grant program in partnership with the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County (EDASC) and the Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network (RAIN Catalysts) to help elevate a regional/rural entrepreneurial ecosystem in Island and Skagit Counties. The $1,159,216 funded project will run from December 2022 through May 2023 and aims to support small business recovery and spur entrepreneurship through a carefully designed program that will connect rural, BIPOC, women, and low-income entrepreneurs to the experts, tools, and capital they need to boost their businesses in the two-county region.
“Small businesses are central to the vitality and character of our communities,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “Through the Small Business Innovation Fund, we aim to support trusted organizations that have unique knowledge and skills needed to serve business owners who have traditionally encountered obstacles in finding and accessing the services and resources they need to thrive.”
The Small Business Innovation Fund (SBIF) supports community-based programs and services that meet the needs of BIPOC entrepreneurs, women-owned small businesses, and businesses located in underserved, low-income and rural parts of the state. Applicants were eligible for grants between $500,000 and $5 million through a competitive award process. A total of $34.5 million in federal funds was made available through the Small Business Innovation Fund.
“We are thrilled and honored to receive the SBIF grant,” says Sharon Sappington, Island County EDC’s Executive Director. “The resulting initiative will provide access to programs and services that will help entrepreneurs and small businesses grow and thrive. And by including our neighbor Skagit County, we are strengthening our regional economic development partnership, which is particularly important in rural communities.”
The Island County EDC-funded program – called “Elevating & Investing in Underserved Small Businesses in Rural Island County + Skagit County," – will run from December 2022 through June 1, 2023 and includes the following programs.
All programs are free to Island County and Skagit County small businesses and startups:
- RAINCAP BOOTCAMPS – Helping small businesses raise capital (e.g., finances, data-informed decisions about amount/use for capital, deal structure). (English + Spanish). Learn more and apply by Feb. 5 at https://raincatalysts.org/raincapbootcamp
- DESTINATION CREATION ACCELERATOR – Helping small, rural businesses elevate their unique products, services, and personalized experiences to attract out-of-market consumers and locals to their unique “destination.”
- A MENTOR NETWORK – Matching rural entrepreneurs participating in the Destination Creation Accelerator and RAINcap Bootcamps with an expert in their industry (e.g., food & beverage, tourism, retail, technology) or an expert who can help them solve a business challenge (e.g., sales/marketing, finances, human resources) by leveraging RAIN Catalysts’ network of expert mentors.
- AN “AMPLIFY” SMALL BUSINESS FUND – Providing grant funds to Chambers of Commerce, Main Street/Downtown/Waterfront Associations, and tourism organizations to amplify rural small businesses.
- A “BOOST” YOUR BUSINESS FUND – Providing grants to small businesses that are led by BIPOC, women, low-income, and rural entrepreneurs. Categories include:
- LAUNCH: e.g., develop brand, online presence, launch events
- GROW: e.g., improve business processes, purchase inventory/equipment, hire contractors
- SKYROCKET: e.g., hire staff, purchase inventory/equipment, open a brick/mortar location)
- TECHNOLOGY & TOOLS
- 1-year LivePlan business planning & financial management licenses for businesses
- 1-year QuickBooks Online licenses for businesses
- Computers for Island County EDC and EDASC to make available for use by rural entrepreneurs who need access
- Meeting Owl Smart Video Conferencing Systems for the Island County EDC for use on Whidbey and Camano Islands to increase access, collaboration, and distance learning
“I want to thank the Island County EDC for their leadership of this exciting grant and for inviting us into their region to help elevate their communities,” said RAIN CEO Caroline Cummings. “We believe that it takes a community to raise an entrepreneur, and we see all the necessary ingredients for a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Island and Skagit counties. RAIN’s job is to raise awareness of these existing resources, identify gaps, work with our partners to fill them, and elevate the region’s entrepreneurial community by increasing access to mentorship, educational programs, and funding sources.”
With programming in Island County and Skagit County set to launch in early 2023, RAIN has hired two Project Coordinators to help facilitate local outreach and activities. These individuals will have experience supporting business owners and promoting community-focused programs.
Last year, the Economic Development Association of Skagit County (EDASC) invited RAIN into their region to help launch an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem and innovation economy. RAIN’s program in Skagit County is funded for an initial 2-year pilot period by the Skagit County Board of Commissioners. RAIN hired a Venture Catalyst (an entrepreneur from the community who leads the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem-building). That Venture Catalyst will also be helping to promote the Small Business Innovation Fund programs offered through this grant and 2-County partnership.
To be notified when these free programs launch, sign-up for the RAIN Newsletter at: https://raincatalysts.org/newsletter