From Michael Hutchins Herald Democrat
The Sherman Economic Development Corp. recently announced four finalists for its 2023 Raising Innovative Sherman Entrepreneurs Awards, also known as the grant program. This year’s finalists, seeking up to $100,000 in funding, include a transportation company and a company that wants to make accessories for virtual reality technology.
This is the third year for the incentive program administered by SEDCO, Austin College and other community partners. The program awarded its first grants in 2022 after a rocky start to its inaugural season in 2020 and early 2021.
“It’s exciting to see new companies expanding and moving to Sherman and that we can help them make that dream come true,” said Shannon Blake, SEDCO Economic Development Specialist.
The four remaining finalists represent a variety of industries ranging from fashion to e-commerce to technology. The first finalist for this year’s awards is Hobo Loco, who are working on developing a foot padding system that can be used with virtual reality technology. This can be used in games, but Blake said the company hopes it can be implemented for a variety of uses.
Another finalist for this year’s grants is Big Girl Spa, which designs, manufactures and sells a range of wooden bathtub decks. These boards are designed and marketed for smaller individuals, Blake said. Taylor’d Trends is the third finalist and sells fashion lines and apparel with a focus on e-commerce. The last company is Jade United, a trucking company looking to expand its fleet by purchasing a third truck for its operations.
SEDCO first announced plans to develop an incentive program for young entrepreneurs in 2020 when it updated its list of focus areas. At that time, SEDCO also added a priority of empowering and assisting women and minority-owned businesses in Sherman.
SEDCO appears to be meeting both of these goals with its current roster of finalists for this year’s competition. Announcing the finalists, SEDCO President Kent Sharp noted that three of the four companies are owned by women or minorities.
The program did not award any scholarships in its first year, although Sharp determined at the time that none of the applicants met the requirements for the program. To qualify for incentives, a company must be less than five years old, be willing to relocate to Sherman, and conduct at least 51 percent of its business outside of Grayson County within three years. The companies must also fall within the categories of companies that can be supported by SEDCO.
“Retail has no quality. Commercial doesn’t qualify for that,” Sharp said in 2021. “So only for businesses that would qualify for Type A.”
In total, the program received nine applications for its most recent series of grants. Of these, five companies did not qualify because they were either outside of eligible incentive categories or we were unwilling to relocate to Sherman in a reasonable timeframe. Despite the early hurdles, Blake said she feels the program is on track for 2023 thanks to a wider audience and marketing efforts for the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
“The response has been really great this year,” she said. “We worked with the Dallas Regional Chamber to offer the program in the Dallas area because they have a lot of programs down there for entrepreneurs, but not a lot of programs give $25,000 — they give about $2,500.”
After the first phase, the finalists worked to develop a business plan with cash flow and presented their companies to the evaluation committee.
Organizers plan to hold a final presentation on April 6th to let applicants know if they have received funding for that year. The final awards ceremony is expected to take place on April 21st at Austin College.
Looking ahead, Blake said organizers could make some changes over the next year. One of the problems the organizers found was that the program focuses on a single award period and omits companies outside of this short application period.
“We feel like we’re kind of limiting ourselves,” she said.
SEDCO recently approved a nearly $1 million stimulus package for Tyson Foods in Sherman. Herald Democrat