Eric Rose started an athleisure company featuring brightly colored hats covered in flying pigs and racing jaguars, among other designs, just before the pandemic in 2019. His passion project turned into the startup Sprints LLC, and just a few years later his product is now available through 500 retailers nationwide, including Fleet Feet in this region.
Rose’s success was due to all the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that go into starting a business, but also partially thanks to the JobsOhio Inclusion Grant program, which allowed him to hire more employees in a “distressed zip code.”
“We were able to go from a business that my wife and I were running out of our garage to an office in Walnut Hills that currently employs five full-time employees and a couple of different contractors,” he says. “We felt like we wanted to be a small part of the revival going on in Walnut Hills.”
Cincinnati businesses in these distressed areas or those run by underrepresented populations can access up to $50,000 through the grant program. Businesses apply for the grant through REDI (Regional Economic Development Initiative), Cincinnati’s private, not-for-profit organization focusing on driving new job growth and capital investment.
Cierra Clymer, REDI’s director of international business development and inclusion, says the program has supported 45 or so local businesses through the grant application process by exploring their “wish list” items for the upcoming three years to determine if their goals align with the grant’s guidelines. Businesses she’s mentored through this process have been met with around a 90 percent approval rate, she estimates.
“Historically, with more traditional JobsOhio programs companies had to have three years of operating history with a minimum of $3 million in annual revenue, which basically cuts out any early-stage companies,” says Clymer, noting that the Inclusion Grant requires only one year of operating history and $100,000 in annual revenue while aiming to help businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, and people with disabilities. “Companies with underrepresented ownership often don’t have the same access to resources to compete in capital-intensive industries.”
Like other grant programs, Jobs-Ohio recipients don’t just get an instant, free, and easy $50,000. One of the considerations applying companies need to make, Clymer says, is whether they have the ability to front the funds themselves, as this is a reimbursement-style grant. The company also has to commit to at least a 10 percent net growth over the course of three years in the form of hiring new employees. The grant can’t pay for the new employees’ salaries but can cover payments such as leasing a facility large enough for those new employees, necessary equipment, and more.
For Rose, the application process itself took just a few hours with REDI’s help, and he found out he’d qualified for the grant within a few weeks. He says reimbursement then took two to three more months.