If you run a small business, it’s important to learn about all the resources available to you that can give you a competitive edge, whether that’s opportunities to promote your business, networking events, or options for financing. One valuable resource that provides all of the above is Iowa’s Targeted Small Business (TSB) program. Meld Marketing CEO, Melinda Pradarelli, sat down to visit with Jill Lippincott of Iowa Economic Development Authority to discuss the Targeted Small Business program and how it helps advance small businesses.
Watch the video or read the key takeaways below for a quick overview of Iowa’s Targeted Small Business program.
Pradarelli learned about becoming a targeted small business in the early stages of developing her own company and was thankful she did. To help spread awareness of this useful program to other small businesses in Iowa, she sat down with Jill Lippincott of the Iowa Economic Development Authority to discuss the highlights of the program.
Here are the key takeaways from their conversation.
What is the Targeted Small Business Designation?
The Iowa Economic Development Authority works to strengthen the economic and community vitality of Iowa by offering assistance to people who are looking to start or grow a business. The Targeted Small Business program is one such initiative that includes two parts: a certification and access to loans.
“We really like to think of it as a program that helps businesses access capital and networks,” Lippincott explains. “To be eligible for the program, small businesses must be operating for a profit, be headquartered in Iowa, and be 51% owned and managed by individuals who are women, individuals with disabilities, individuals of minority status, or service-disabled veterans.”
Being a certified TSB could help you stand out with government agencies that have goals to meet TSB procurement goals or large private corporations that recognize and want to work with diverse small businesses owned by women, minorities, or veterans. The TSB badge can be used to promote your business on marketing materials, proposals, and RFPs.
How to Become an Iowa Targeted Small Business
As Pradarelli can attest, the application for becoming a targeted small business is fast and simple to complete. You can log into an application online, or complete a hard copy. On the application, you will need to answer a few questions about your business, such as whether the business is an LLC or corporation. You’ll also need to provide documentation to verify that you fit one of the four targeting categories.
According to Lippincott, the Iowa Economic Development Authority has worked to reduce the time it takes to process an application. “A lot of businesses come to us and say, ‘We’re applying for a proposal, and they asked if we’re certified. Can we get certified?’ And we like to work with the speed of business,” she says.
Once you’ve completed the application, you can expect to hear back within three to five days. Throughout the process, you can reach out to the Iowa Economic Development Authority with any questions you may have and get a personal response.
Other Benefits of the TSB Program
Through the Targeted Small Business program, individuals can also plug into a community of small businesses and gain access to networking events and workshops.
These events can help you get answers to common questions about how to use the certificate, which companies recognize it, and whether to put it on your bid proposal, etc. By networking with other small businesses, you can also find mentors and ask broader questions about small business ownership as well.
The Purpose of the Loan Program
In addition to the TSB certification, the loan program is another great resource for small businesses. Obtaining a loan is a big hurdle that can prevent individuals from even getting their business off the ground. When many people start a business, they aren’t sure how to get financing. They may not be comfortable starting a credit line, but they aren’t sure what else to do or what options they have.
Walking into a bank and asking for a loan can be intimidating, but the Iowa Center for Economic Success isn’t a commercial loan setting — it’s specifically designed for individuals who are just starting out as business owners.
“If you’re not quite ready, they will help counsel you through creating a business plan and looking at your financials, looking at some projections,” Lippincott says. “And then when you’re ready, they’ll take you through the process. So it provides a lot of great wraparound services. It really takes out that fear factor of asking for money.”
Additional Small Business Resources
The Iowa Economic Development Authority also runs IA SourceLink , which is a helpful website for any entrepreneur looking to get started with a business plan, grow their business, or sell their business. The site also includes a resource navigator with more than 375 resources from across the state and a business license information center.
“A lot of people don’t know there’s some licenses required for starting a business, and we actually have somebody who will answer the phone and help you navigate what licensing you might need in the industry,” Lippincott explains.
Another valuable resource is Business Concierge, which provides access to market research at no cost. You can also find a calendar that shares information about workshops and other scheduled events.
Finding Partners for Your Business
Running a small business offers both rewards and challenges, and it pays to use every tool at your disposal to increase your chances for success. As you explore different small business resources for entrepreneurs and startups, don’t forget to check out local resources like the Iowa Targeted Small Business program, which offers many different layers of support.
Interested in hearing more about the TSB program from a certified participant? Reach out! Melinda would be happy to share her experience and advice.
Read the full transcript
Melinda: Hi, I’m Melinda Pradarelli, and I’m CEO and founder of Meld Marketing. Thanks for watching our blog series today on how to become a targeted small business. I’m here with Jill Lippincott from the Iowa Economic Development Authority. She’s a project manager there and has been very helpful actually even with us at Meld to get us designated as a targeted small business. And so we oftentimes are meeting with clients who will talk to us a little bit about, “What should I do? What are my resources that are available?” So first, I just want to say thank you for coming and talking about this. First of all, maybe just talk a little bit about what the Iowa Economic Development Authority does.
Jill: Sure. Iowa Economic Development Authority’s role is to really strengthen the economic and community vitality of Iowa through building relationships and leveraging resources that help make Iowa the best place for people and businesses. And we do that through community development, business development, and we manage a few state and federal programs like the TSB program that assist individuals and communities and businesses.
Melinda: Okay, excellent, and you are in Des Moines. Do you have other offices, or is everybody in Des Moines?
Jill: We’re all in Des Moines, but a lot of us travel, so we are willing to be wherever we need to be to support businesses or to network or to host events and things of that nature.
Melinda: So tell me a little bit about the targeted small business designation and how you explain the program to people and what the benefit of it is.
Jill: The Targeted Small Business program has been around for a number of years. It is a two-part program: a certification and a loan program. We really like to think of it as a program that helps businesses access capital and networks. So to be eligible for the program, small businesses must be operating for a profit, headquartered in Iowa, and be 51% owned and managed by individuals who are women, individuals with disabilities, individuals of minority status, or service disabled veterans. So the program is really, like I said, two parts. There’s the long piece of the program, so access to loans to get the business started, or the certification program, which I think helps businesses access networks and just resources that they can then sell to and use a certificate to leverage their status as a certified business.
Melinda: Yes. Okay. So I know in the case of Meld, we use that seal and that designation often when we put it on proposals or we submit on RFPs. Can you explain a little bit more about the behind the scenes of what that means for the purchasing person, and who those purchasing people would be that would care about that?
Jill: Right, so we really promote that certificate in a few different ways. One on the public procurement side. So the state of Iowa also has made goals to recognize the targeted small business certificate when they’re buying from vendors who have that certificate in the state, but also on the private side as well. So there are larger companies and corporations that often recognize diverse small businesses, so businesses owned by women, or minorities, or veterans. And so when they see a proposal come in that has that certification, that stands out above the rest.
Melinda: And so how complicated or how easy is it to get this type of designation? What do you need to do?
Jill: Well, I don’t think it’s too complicated. I’ll use your opinion, hopefully.
Melinda: No, it wasn’t that hard at all.
Jill: We’ve really worked to streamline it too. So the program’s been around for a number of years. But in the last three years, we’ve really taken a look at the application, and said, “What is it that we really can do to make this easier? Because we don’t want to create another obstacle for businesses that historically have had obstacles in accessing capital markets.” So it is an online application. It can be done via hard copy, but the online application can be accessed through our site. And you can log in and start the application. We’re going to ask you a few questions about your business and the background. And then depending on the type of business, whether it’s an LLC or corporation, we’ll ask you to upload some documentation too, documentation to verify that you fit in one of those four targeting categories. And then we’ll review that usually within three to five days, actually, as a turnaround time. So we’ve really reduced that because a lot of businesses come to us and say, “We’re applying for a proposal and they asked if we’re certified. Can we get certified?” And we like to work with the speed of business. And if we don’t have what we need, we’ll follow up and say, “Hey, can we get these documents?” It’s a relationship with you. We continue to work with you on it.
Melinda: I know from our personal experience that it’s been really valuable for us, and our interactions with you personally, being able to email back and forth and ask those questions. And find out as much as we can on our own, but also you’ve been incredibly helpful. And it’s one of the reasons why we wanted to talk about it today. Because I do think it’s something that, you know, when I started my business, I was lucky enough that somebody mentioned it to me. And so raising some more awareness about it for people, you know, in terms of just companies of all sizes that would be interested in it. And so the website that they can use to sign up is?
Melinda: Okay, that’s fantastic. And what are some of the things — because I know intangibly that we get emails and information that comes through — what are the kinds of things that, you know, you continue to communicate to people once they sign up?
Jill: Once you get certified, we really like to connect you into all of those resources and communities of small business owners that are out there. So that can be workshops that our partners are hosting around the state. So these are also statewide. We tend to target them. Depending if you’re in Coralville, we’re not inviting you to something in Council Bluffs. But we also host our own networking events. And this is something that a lot of our businesses said, “Hey, you know, it would be really great to connect with other businesses in the network too that are also certified.” So we started posting targeted small business networking events. And that was great, because we had businesses who could ask similar questions, such as, “Which companies are the ones that recognize the certificate? How did you use it? Do you put it in your bid proposal? Or do you tell them later?” Those types of questions that only our community can answer. We actually started opening them up to all small business owners as well, because Iowa Economic Development Authority also works with other small business. And so it really became a great place for our businesses to connect with other small business owners, even if they weren’t in our program, to really connect with mentors and to ask broader questions about small business ownership.
Melinda: That is super helpful. I recently wrote a blog actually, for Meld, talking about what does it take to get a business started — and just my own perspective of starting a new business, being a woman owned business, just all sorts of things, right. And I talked about in that blog that one of the most valuable things was the Iowa Economic Development Authority and this type of program for TSB, which we have a link to on our website, too, because I just think it’s important for people to know, and there’s so many different resources, but sometimes it’s overwhelming when you’re starting to figure out where to go.
Jill: And we get that question a lot, because women or individuals starting a business will Google “what are opportunities for women business owners,” and they’ll end up on our site. And our certification is really there once you’ve started the business, but the loan program is there for you to get started. And so even if they call us and say, “Well, I’m just looking to get started. What are the resources?” We often are a hub that then sends them out to a small business resource partner or to look into the loan program. And I think you’re absolutely right, that there are so many questions when you get started, and things you just don’t know. You don’t know what you don’t know. So we’re happy to be a voice on the other end of the line to help navigate.
Melinda: So great, I’m glad you brought up the loan program because I do think for a lot of people that’s where they start, right? They’re not sure they should go to bank directly, or they decided, “I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with a credit line, or what should I do?” So talk a little bit about that loan program in terms of what kind of counsel you give people if they ask about it.
Jill: Well, our loan program is managed by our partner, the Iowa Center for Economic Success, and so we will connect them to the Iowa Center, and the Iowa Center isn’t going to be like a commercial loan setting. And I think that’s where you’re exactly right. It’s scary to walk into a bank. It’s scary to not to know if you’re ready to ask for a loan. And so the great thing about the Iowa Center is that the loan program is specifically designed for individuals in that spot. So if you’re not quite ready, they will help counsel you through creating a business plan and looking at your financials, looking at some projections. And then when you’re ready, they’ll take you through the process. So it also provides a lot of great wraparound services. It really takes out that fear factor of asking for money for this idea that I think I have, I think it’s great, but I’m not sure how to do it. And so it’s a great place to get started. And again, that’s part of why we have that in the program, because that’s historically a scary piece to even getting your business off the ground.
Melinda: Absolutely. And we talk about it a lot with our clients, because while we are a marketing agency, we do so much work either on the front end to help groups who come in and say, “You know what, I think need marketing, but it actually wasn’t in my original business plan, because I was focused on my product or service.” Which makes sense, right? And so oftentimes, we’re saying, “Great, you know, let’s send you to a resource or a partner. We’ll give you our own advice of what we’ve seen, but it’s limited.” So we want to send them to somebody else. And you know, we can do that with you. We can do that with banks. But it’s nice to kind of know and judge where somebody is in their comfort level of what they’re ready to do.
Jill: Yeah, we often do personalized introductions for that reason, because sometimes saying, “Well, you know, you need to call this person.” That’s still scary. So we really like to do an email handoff if we can to introduce someone to the next step so that they felt like they have been assisted along the way.
Melinda: Right, well that is excellent. Jill, talk to us about some other resources that you might have available also.
Jill: Iowa Economic Development Authority also manages Iowa SourceLink, iasourcelink.com, which is a great site for any small business owner and entrepreneur looking to get started with a business plan, looking to grow their business, looking to sell their business. So there’s a lot of great resources on that site, including a resource navigator, that has over 375 resources from across the state that individuals can look into, and also has the business license information center, which I think is really interesting because a lot of people don’t know there’s some licenses required for starting a business, and we actually have somebody who will answer the phone and help you navigate what licensing you might need in the industry. But my favorite part is the Business Concierge. It is a specialized resource that individuals can access if they are looking for market research, if they’re looking for information or a special report, they can access it at no cost. So, a lot of great resources. There’s a calendar that’s out there that talks about workshops, and things going on around the state as well.
Melinda: I want to say thank you, Jill, for joining me today, and I think that’s all the time we have. If you would like to know more about what the Iowa Economic Development Authority does, you can visit www.iowaeda.com. If you’d like to know more about what Meld Marketing does, please visit meldmarketing.com. And while you’re there, you can read some of our blogs that I mentioned. And you can also subscribe to Meld Intel, our e-newsletter that comes out every month. Thanks for visiting with us today and for watching our video blog. Have a great day.