Cabarrus Center Already Providing a “Spark” Through Grant Process

21 Businesses Applied for the New Grant Program Funded by Truist Bank

The Cabarrus Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship may have just opened, but the first big “spark” of activity has already been underway for several months as aspiring entrepreneurs try to secure grants through the Flywheel Foundation and Truist Bank.

Back in December, Flywheel which designed and manages the center, launched the Spark Grants program, offering up to $5,000 to entrepreneurs located in or adding jobs in Cabarrus County and surrounding communities to help them test ideas that can be commercialized successfully. Entrepreneurs receiving grants will also be offered use of the coworking space in the Cabarrus Center at no charge for 6 months.

In total, 21 applications were received for the Spark Grants with approximately half coming directly from Concord and Kannapolis and the rest from the Charlotte Mecklenburg region. Flywheel expanded the grant pool to Cabarrus and surrounding counties to attract entrepreneurs to grow their ideas right here in our community.

The grant program targeted entrepreneurs who have an idea that solves a problem and makes an impact in the community or market served. If applicants were an existing company, they had to be in pre-revenue or early stage.

Additionally, applicants were required to enroll in a virtual four-week “Applied Lean Startup Practices Course” facilitated through Flywheel.

Why require applicants to take this class? Whether they receive the grant or not, these businesses will learn vital things about growing their business from this course. The Lean Startup methodology is an approach to building new businesses rooted in the belief that entrepreneurs must investigate, experiment, test, and iterate as they develop products.

The class began in early February and was filled with a diverse group, inclusive of female entrepreneurs, main street companies, scalable businesses, product startups, device startups, as well as application and software concepts.

So why is this grant process exciting for our community? It is the reason so many people are excited about the Cabarrus Center opening in the heart of downtown Concord. Our community has the partner agencies who offer everything an entrepreneur needs to grow an idea into the next great business, and by connecting them all together through the Cabarrus Center, businesses will have access to this Business Resource Center for everything they need. The more companies that get their start here, the more likely they are to stay and grow their business here, which will lead to more jobs for our area.

Once businesses complete the class, they have the opportunity to work with Flywheel through one-on-one coaching sessions to prepare for their presentations to the grant judging committee composed of leaders of the Cabarrus startup ecosystem. They will then narrow the field down to 10 finalists.
Flywheel representatives will then work with those applicants to develop their 7-10 minute pitches in preparation for a Pitch Competition on March 30. Up to 5 grants will be awarded based on those pitches.

Selection criteria for the grants will include:

  • Creativity and innovation of the idea
  • Ability to distinguish this entrepreneur’s idea from others on the market
  • The overall strength and quality of team
  • Knowledge of market
  • Clarity of problem statement
  • Market fit of the proposed solution
  • A rating of the viability of the idea (product/service/technology)
  • Total viable market and estimated market share of target market
  • Commercialization plan and business model
  • Potential revenue, capitalization requirements, and financing plans
  • Overall assessment of the opportunity

Grant winners will sign an agreement with the Flywheel Foundation and Cabarrus Center on use of funds, stipulating that the money be used for specific business development expenses and ongoing mentoring at the Cabarrus Center.

Stimulating a Startup Ecosystem in Cabarrus County

Truist Bank is supporting the Cabarrus Center as a title sponsor and providing funds for these spark grants. Truist was formed after merging BB&T and SunTrust banks with a shared purpose—to inspire and build better lives and communities. By investing in this grant process, they are already accomplishing that goal!

Flywheel has seen success with this type of grant program before in their other locations and they plan to offer additional grants in the future. In addition, Flywheel provides equity-based investment through its New Ventures program and accelerator which will be made available to select early-stage scalable in the region.

New Ventures is an application-based program that invests an average of $50,000 in inception-stage startups that are pre-revenue. While the program intentionally seeks out in-state startups, it also invests throughout the Southeast and beyond, with investments in 21 companies so far.

If you are interested in learning more about the Cabarrus Center or scheduling a tour, visit the website at cabarruscenter.com.

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