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LiftTN: Microenterprise, Rural Edition

Apply now to provide education, resources and tools to underserved and underrepresented microenterprises located in rural Tennessee. 

We know that “education, resources and tools” is very general. We also know that there are incredible programs, activities and opportunities that are currently moving the needle for businesses in communities across the state and beyond. Maybe one of these programs or activities is happening in your community that needs to expand, or maybe there is one in somewhere else you think would fill a gap in your community.

Here are how two grantees from the pilot round used their LiftTN funds to meet the needs of entrepreneurs and small businesses:

Statewide project: IWW, a virtual incubator, enabled businesses across the state to access key resources, such as writing and submitting bids or RFPs/RFIs for government contracts, bookkeeping and accounting practices that meet requirements, etc.

West TN project:  altShop, a pop-up shop program, enabled retailers and food service businesses to learn the ins and outs of running a brick and mortar business with a specific focus on construction and manufacturing industries.

How much can you apply for?

  • Single region projects: up to $50,000
  • Multi-regional/statewide projects*: up to $150,000

*Requires Intent to Apply. See Application page.

Who can apply for funding?
Existing nonprofits, local governments and educational institutions registered and in good standing in the state of Tennessee

Which areas are eligible for Rural Edition?
Non-entitlement areas in Tennessee.

What is the contract period for the Rural Edition?
The contract period is 24 months; the execution of the project is to take place in months 1-18 with reporting/observation from months 19-24.

The not so fine, fine print: 

  • The grant application must be submitted and administered by the sponsoring nonprofit organization, local government or educational entity.
  • Partnerships, collaborative work and leveraging funds are encouraged!
  • LiftTN is a reimbursable grant program. That means you spend the money as agreed upon for eligible activities; submit respective receipts and other documentations then we reimburse you.
  • Organizations participating in LiftTN will be required to submit proper documentation of all grant expenditures. Failure to follow specified uses or accounting requirements may result in loss of program participation and/or dollars.
  • All expenditures must take place within the timeframe of the grant period as designated by the grant contract.

Application period: February 12 – March 30, 2018

Submit your application online and use the budget document provided.

Helpful hints:

  • Save time on your application by being prepared with all of the requirements before you begin.
  • Cut and paste your responses directly into the online format. The PDF version is below.
  • Save your application as you go – when you save your application an email is sent to you with a link so you can access it later.
  • On the budget, clearly identify the expenses by program and make notes to explain details.
  • Other than uploading your budget document, no images or additional documents may be uploaded with your application.
  • Please note any applicable “soft” commitments from government agencies, non-profits and/or private business and industry may be noted in the application.

LiftTN R2 Application Webinar
Thursday, March 15, 8:30-9:30a CST/9:30-10:30a EST

View Application Webinar

Rural Edition Multi-Region/Statewide Applicants 
Send us an email with your idea before submitting your application. Include the geographic area(s) to be covered with a brief paragraph describing the project, estimated budget and your contact information. Email it to us at with “LiftTN Intent to Apply” in the subject line by March 16, 2018.

Questions: Please email us at with “LiftTN: Microenterprise Question” in the subject line.

Review application document: LiftTN Application (PDF)

Recommendation:  After you submit your LiftTN: Microenterprise application, take a moment to complete the pre-grant document here; the Supplier Direct Deposit requires a hard copy to be physically mailed, and is a step that can cause delay.

How your application will be evaluated and the process, as well as definitions referred to in the application, can be found in this section.

Application Evaluation
Applications will be reviewed according to the following criteria:

  • Description
  • Project Need (30 pts.)
  • Project Impact (30 pts.), (+10 pts.)
  • Project/program Plan (30 pts.), (+10 pts.)
  • Budget (10 pts.)

Application Process
Applications will be reviewed, recommended and then approved by TNECD’s Grant Committee. All contracts will be sent directly to the grantee for signature and returned to TNECD for final signatures and approvals. Contracts must be fully executed before any work may be performed; meaning no costs may be incurred.   

Definitions: What does that mean?

  • “DBE” refers to businesses owned by women, minorities, veterans and persons with disabilities; as well as businesses operating in areas of low income and high unemployment in the state.
  • “Entitlement and Non-Entitlement”
    State CDBG funds cannot be used in Entitlement communities including Shelby County and Memphis, Jackson, Clarksville, Davidson County, Murfreesboro, Oak Ridge, Knox County and Knoxville, Chattanooga, Cleveland, Morristown, Kingsport, Bristol, Franklin, Hendersonville, and Johnson City. Entitlement communities receive funding directly from HUD; these communities are encouraged to work with their local governments to access their annual CDBG funds. The state and other communities can be of assistance in setting up this program. All other communities in the State are non-entitlement.
  • “Low and Moderate Income” (LMI)
    This initiative is funded through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars, which means some federal guidelines, must be met, specifically LMI. Detailed LMI information: 

LMI is a CDBG National Objective that principally benefits persons of low and moderate income (LMI). For quick reference, LMI is defined as a household whose income is less than 80% of the area median income and located in a non-entitlement area.

There are a few ways that LMI may be met:

  • The grantee can document that this project benefits the entire community and that the community consists of more than 51% of people that are designated as low and moderate income. Communities that meet this requirement according to the 2010 census are on the TNECD CDBG website. If a community is not included in this list, they can randomly survey residents’ incomes to see if the 51% threshold is met. If a community-wide CDBG Regular Round or Disaster application has been submitted in the last two (2) years, those surveys could be used. Please us to see if a community qualifies as low-income.
  •  The grantee can document that the business owners assisted are low income. This can be done by documenting the income of the business owner and comparing that to the community’s average income as provided by HUD.
  •  The grantee can document that people hired with grant funding are low income. If the project will result in new hires, the business can commit to hiring at least 51% low-income people as documented by their incomes before starting the job compared to the county’s average income.

LMI Caveat: LMI data is independent of other income related data such as free and reduced lunch programs, unemployment and/or poverty rates, etc.

How to Count LMI Participants
Applicants seeking to provide education, tools and resources to a set group or cohort of microenterprises/business owners, LMI status should be based on the individual owners. Applicants who propose to offer education, tools and resources that do not have a set group or cohort may wish to base LMI status on the service area. Any questions concerning the LMI requirements should be directed to TNECD before submitting an application.

  •   Environmental Review/SHPO Clearance: All federally funded projects must complete an Environmental Review; for projects that do not involve construction the environmental review will be quick. TNECD will provide training for grantees on the Environmental Review process.
  •   Procurement: All contractors and services must be competitively procured according to federal or local procurement standards, whichever is more restrictive. Minority and female contractors should be invited to bid. For projects that involve construction, Davis-Bacon requirements must be included in bid documents. Bids must be opened publicly, and minutes must be kept of the meeting. Bids should be awarded to the lowest, most responsive bidder. If an organization elects not to use the lowest bidder, justification must be made to and approved by TNECD.
  • “Microenterprise” is a business with five (5) or fewer employees including its owners.  Microenterprises comprise the largest number of business enterprises in Tennessee and are a critical aspect our state’s diverse business climate. Find out more here.
  • “Region” refers TNECD’s nine regions: Northeast, East, Southeast, Upper Cumberland, Southern Middle, Northern Middle, Southwest, Northwest and Memphis Area.
  • “Reimbursement Grant” is a grant in which you have to spend dollars according to the agreed upon budget, document what you spent, and then submit a request to be reimbursed for the dollars you spent. This is why it is critical for applicants to be in the fiscal position to complete this type of grant.
    The grant application must be submitted and administered by the sponsoring existing nonprofit, city/county government or educational institution.  All expenditures must take place within the timeframe of the grant period as designated by the grant contract. The grant period begins when all contracts are signed and returned to TNECD for final execution.
  • “Underserved and underrepresented” populations may include women, minorities and veterans; individuals with disabilities; previously incarcerated individuals; and areas of low- to moderate income* (LMI).

The intent of these dollars is to enable grantees to expand their capacity to deliver new education, tools and resources and/or to expand to new communities.

Unmet Needs: These have not been addressed though this initiative, but are in demand:

  • Co-working spaces
  • Economic Gardening® targets existing second-stage microenterprises in a community by helping them grow through assistance with strategic issues and providing customized research.
  • Resiliency and Succession Planning offers technical assistance to increase microenterprise sustainability and adaptability.
  • Development of worker cooperatives that facilitate management/employee buyouts 

Ineligible Programs/Use:

  • Fund or expand loan programs
  • Workforce development
  • Ongoing operational dollars to run existing program.

Past Program Success: There are a few approaches that worked especially well in the previous Rural and Urban Core Editions.

  •  “Deep” technical assistance refers to a combination of education, assistance and resources that take a business through complicated, often time consuming processes that enables them to work in a new way. It is not a broad overview where you hand the business a stack of papers or a flash drive and say, “Good luck!” Examples:
    • Procurement: going step-by-step through a local, state and/or federal registration/ certification, learning how to read and complete a bid, setting up a bookkeeping system that encompasses the respective contracting entity, specifying services to target industry clusters like manufacturing, construction, in high demand, etc.
    • One example is a Sub-to-Prime program initiative in which a subcontractor obtains the knowledge and resources to move their business to a level in which it is able to compete as a prime contractor.
  • Mentor-protégé programs where the microenterprise is mentored by a larger, well-established business. One example: Propel at the Knoxville Chamber

Learn about LiftTN: Microenterprise, Rural and Urban Core grantee programs at OpenECD.

Grantee Suggestions: If I Knew Then What I Know Now…
The grantees from the past rounds have some thoughts to pass along that may help as you consider your application for this program. You will note that there are some commons threads – take them in account.

What they recommend:

  • Be proactive, don’t assume, and communicate as you go along.
  • Encourage partnering among grantees – some programs dovetail each other.
  • Think through the guidelines (uses of dollars) and logistics on the frontend.
  • Understand your capacity and its limits – the plan is only as good as the participants.
  • Run the grant through your organization like a for-profit business – understand what you can and can’t spend your dollars on before you spend them!

Where they found challenges:

  • Getting the word out and ramping up the program took longer than anticipated
  • Didn’t think through grant thoroughly enough (logistics, etc.)
  • Alignment of time, opportunity and expertise

Where they found successes:

  •  Knowing you could reach out (to TNECD) with questions
  • The check-in calls – hearing the other grantees discuss their challenges and what they learned
  •  Program promotion by TNECD through newsletters, social media, word of mouth, etc.
  • Reimbursement is easy, not cumbersome

Grantees are required to complete quarterly and final reports. Please select the button below to complete the report.