LiftTN: Microenterprise

  • Overview
  • Eligibility
  • Guidance
  • Process
  • Application
  • If I Knew Then
  • Overview

    TNECD is accepting applications for funding under its LiftTN: Microenterprise, Rural Edition and Urban Core Edition initiatives until August 16, 2017. The goal of the LiftTN initiatives is to foster microenterprise development. Grant recipients will provide education, tools and resources to underserved and underrepresented existing and future microenterprises located in and/or whose current/future owners reside in eligible areas of Tennessee. This is a reimbursement grant initiative and a combined total of $1,250,000 is available for award.

    What are the LiftTN: Microenterprise, Rural and Urban Core Editions?
    LiftTN is a microenterprise development initiative.

    What is a microenterprise and why?
    For the LiftTN initiative, a microenterprise is a business with five (5) or fewer employees including the 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.

    How did LiftTN get started?
    TNECD launched the Rural Edition as a pilot program in February 2015 with $400,000 in total grant money awarded over a two-year contract to five grantees.  The program, funded through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) chose to meet the national objective of low to moderate income (LMI). At the time of its launch, Tennessee was the only state using this approach with HUD’s Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) dollars. In FY2017, the Urban Core Edition launched its first round of funding, which was made available through state dollars.

    LiftTN: Microenterprise, Rural Edition

    Five (5) grantees ran pilot programs from 2015 to 2017 across Tennessee. Learn more about what they did.

    West Tennessee
    Communities Unlimited, Inc.

    ALTShops is a popup retail program that recruits business owners and assists them with startup costs, leasing of commercial property and other technical assistance.

    Middle Tennessee and Statewide
    Growth Enterprises (NBIC)

    Incubator Without Walls provides a virtual business incubation program with one-on-one business counseling, as well as location-based training classes

    East Tennessee
    Knoxville Chamber

    Propel (min. 2:11) is a mentor-protégée program that pairs protégés relatively new to business with mentors who are established business leaders. The protégés also receive coaching and technical assistance.

    Sonnenshein Green Initiative (SGI)

    SGI established and operates the Hohenwald Marketplace, a place for local vendors to operate and sell services and goods.

    BizFoundry, TN Code Academy

    Apps and Entrepreneurship teaches youth, 12-18 years old, not only how to make an app or a game, but how to make money with what they create.

    Original program press release:


    LiftTN: Microenterprise, Urban Core Edition

    Six (6) grantees were awarded funding in FY2017 to provide education, tools and resource in urban core areas of Chattanooga, Clarksville, Knoxville, and Memphis. Learn more about their respective programs here.

    Grantee: City of Memphis, Office of Business Diversity & Compliance
    Expansion of Sub-to-Prime pilot procurement program initiative. Sub-to-Prime works with businesses through offering bid training, scaling assistance and reducing certification costs.

    Grantee: Memphis BioWorks Foundation/EPIcenter
    Establish and sustain successful entrepreneurship training and support in partnership with MCUTS (Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies) and Alcy Ball CDC.

    Grantee: Greater Memphis Chamber
    Support for the research, development and launch of the Memphis Chamber’s mentor-protégé program.

    Grantee: LAUNCH, Inc.
    Two program initiatives that include entrepreneurial education through startup training and increased participation in public and private procurement. The initiatives are in partnership with the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

    Grantee: Greater Knoxville Chamber of Commerce
    Two initiatives: (1) the Propel Mentor-Protégé program, through the utilization of distance learning options, through technologies such as GoToMeeting and WebX, as well as provide program fees support to enable a minimum of four protégé businesses to patriciate in the Propel Mentor-Protégé program, and (2) increase participation in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) that teaches middle and high school students how to start their own business.

    Grantee: LEAP Organization
    Two program initiatives: (1) a youth career readiness program (for 15-18 year olds) that incorporates entrepreneurship modules, provides internships for students with entrepreneurs, and has a juvenile court referral component, and (2) to operate an education and technical assistance program for entrepreneurs.


    The Rural and Urban Core Editions

    The LiftTN: Microenterprise, Rural Edition and LiftTN: Microenterprise, Urban Core Edition initiatives align, but have key differences in requirements related to eligible beneficiaries of the reimbursement grant dollars due to their respective service areas – see LMI and urban core descriptions, funding sources, and contract length. See the Eligibility section for more details.

    *DBE: 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.

  • Eligibility

    Eligibility is broken into three sections: (1) the items that relate to both Rural and Urban Core Editions, followed by what differentiates the requirements by the (2) Rural Edition and (3) Urban Core Edition.


    LiftTN: Microenterprise, Rural and Urban Core Editions

    Who can apply for funding?
    Eligible organizations include existing nonprofits, city/county governments and educational institutions duly registered and in good standing in the state of Tennessee.

    Who must the funding serve?
    The beneficiaries of the funding are underserved and underrepresented existing and future microenterprises located in and/or whose owners reside in one of the designated areas.

    • “Microenterprise” is a business with five (5) or fewer employees including its owners.
    • “Underserved and underrepresented” populations may include women, minorities and veterans; individuals with disabilities; previously incarcerated individuals; and areas of low- to moderate income* (LMI).

    Can an organization apply for rural and urban core editions, multiple programs or multiple areas?
    The short answer is, yes.

    The long answer

    Organizations may apply for single or multiple programs to run in one of the eligible designated rural or urban core cities/consolidated metros. An organization may also submit multiple applications for multiple designated rural and/or urban core cities/consolidated metros.

    The caveats:

    Rural Edition: 
    An applicant may submit one application that captures either a single project in one or more contiguous TNECD regions areas up to and including statewide (in eligible areas), but may not submit one application for one or more programs to take place in non-contiguous TNECD regions For example, one application that encompasses one or more programs that take place in Northeast Tennessee and East Tennessee is acceptable, but one application may not include programming for one region and one program for another region, regardless if the regions are contiguous or not.

    Urban Core Edition:
    An applicant may not submit one application that captures multiple designated urban core cities/consolidated metros.  For example, you can submit one application for two different programs that take place in Knoxville, but you cannot submit one application for one program that takes place in Knoxville and Chattanooga. In the second example, you can submit a separate application for Knoxville and a second for Chattanooga.

    This is a reimbursement grant program. How does that work?
    That means that 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.

    Grantees may use up to 10 percent of the funding for grantee administration; see the budget for the respective percentages. All expenditures must be requested by reimbursement requests on official forms provided by TNECD. Reimbursements may not pre-date the start date of the contract.

    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 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.
    • All expenditures must take place within the timeframe of the grant period as designated by the grant contract.
    • Two key differences between the Rural Edition and the Urban Core Edition:
      • Amount of money available
      • Contract period

    LiftTN: Microenterprise, Rural Edition

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

    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.

    Here are the details
    • CDBG National Objective: HUD requires that all projects meet a national objective of principally benefitting persons of low and moderate income (LMI), the elimination or prevention of slums and blight, or the elimination of conditions detrimental to health, safety or public welfare. The national objective for this initiative is LMI. 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 HUD and Census data located 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 contact TNECD 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.
    • NOTE: Applications that seek to provide service and assistance to a set group or cohort of businesses/business owners, LMI status should be based on the individual owners. Applications that propose to offer technical assistance through workshops or trainings 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 during the development of the 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.

    What are Entitlement Communities?
    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.

    How much can I apply for in the Rural Edition round?
    You may apply for up to the maximum amount allotted.

    Here are the dollar amounts:

    Rural Edition Funds:


    Single region projects

    up to $50,000

    Multi-regional projects*

    up to $150,000

    Statewide projects*

    up to $150,000

    Region refers TNECD’s nine regions: Northeast, East, Southeast, Upper Cumberland, Southern Middle, Northern Middle, Southwest, Northwest and Memphis Area.

    *Rural Edition: Multi-Region/Statewide: You must submit an Intent to Apply synopsis and be approved before submitting your application for this category. In order for us to review your request, your Intent to Apply needs to include the geographic areas to be covered with a brief paragraph describing the project. Submit your Intent to Apply no later than August 10 by email to with “LiftTN Intent to Apply” in the subject line.

    Applicants must be able to demonstrate a need, a viable action plan (including that the resources needed to execute the plan are available) and the projected positive results.

    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.


    LiftTN: Microenterprise, Urban Core Edition

    Which areas are eligible for Urban Core?
    Urban core eligible areas are located within Chattanooga, Clarksville, Jackson, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville and the Tri-Cities (Bristol/Johnson City/Kingsport)

    What is a designated Urban Core (UC) city/consolidated metro?
    “Urban core” refers to those businesses located or whose owners reside within the city boundary/consolidated metro in Low-Mod Block Groups as designated by the HUD.

    To determine if the business owner(s) residence is located in a qualified Low-Mod Block Groups, go to, then click on “Layers, ” then expand “Boundaries,” then expand “Other,” and check “Low-Mod Block Groups.”  From there you can zoom in and out easily to see streets.

    Tell me more about Urban Core and LMI.
    Meeting HUD’s national objective for the definition of *LMI is highly encouraged for the Urban Core Edition, but not required. See LMI information in the Rural Edition section.

    If it’s not required, then why do you want to meet HUD’s LMI national objective?
    The urban core areas are located in “entitlement communities,” which means that HUD allocates their CDBGs funding directly to areas and does not go through the State. HUD strongly encourages economic development projects, and specifically, microenterprise projects. So, if you are already aligned and in compliance with LMI, it will be easier for you to make a case for additional CDBG funding from your respective urban area since you are meeting HUD’s LMI requirements.

    How much can I apply for in the Urban Core Edition?
    You may apply for up to the maximum amount allotted in each urban core area.

    Here are the dollar amounts:

    Designated urban core (UC) city/ consolidated metro funds:














    Tri-Cities (Bristol, Kingsport, Johnson City)



    Applicants must be able to demonstrate a need, a viable action plan (including that the resources needed to execute the plan are available) and the projected positive results.

    What is the contract period for the Urban Core Edition?
    The contract will run from the time it is fully executed (projecting October 1) and all activities must be completed by the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2018.

  • Program Guidance

    There are a few approaches that worked especially well in the previous Rural and Urban Core Editions. Here are a few items of particular interest, but are in no way the only education, tools and resources that we are looking for from applicants of the LiftTN: Microenterprise initiative.

    Various kinds of education, tools and resources may include, but are not limited to these:

    • “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!” A couple 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.
      • Planning: Businesses need to go through resiliency and succession planning, but they don’t like to do it. Succession planning can enable a business to be sold if no one in the family is in line to take it on. Resiliency planning can be the life line for a business.
    • Mentor-protégé programs where the microenterprise is mentored by a larger, well-established business.
      • One example: Propel at the Knoxville Chamber
    • Economic Gardening® targets second-stage companies already operating in a community. It helps these existing businesses grow larger by assisting them with strategic issues and providing them with customized research.
    • Worker cooperatives Management/employee buyout programs
    • Youth: STE(A)M opportunities with  (i.e. coding classes/workshops/camps with an entrepreneurial element like, if you learn how to make a game, you then learn how to market or sell that game)
  • Process

    How does this process work?


    • Application period opens July 3, 2017 and closes August 16, 2017
    • Submit application online


    • Applications are reviewed and any follow-up questions addressed
    • Final recommendations made to the Commissioner of Economic and Community Development


    • Grantees selected and notified: September 2017 (updated 9/5/2017)


    • Obtain pre-grant (includes W9, ACH, etc.)
    • Takes approx. 30 days


    • Grantee training, late 2017
    • Launch all projects: October 2017


    • Contracts end:
      The reimbursement grant contract periods (projected):
      • Rural Edition: October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2019
           (Note:  Execution of project is to take place in months 1-18 with reporting/observation from months 19-24.
      • Urban Core Edition: October 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018
           (Note:  Execution and reporting of project may take place over whole project period.)
    • Final reports and reimbursement requests submitted within 60 days of end of contract
      There will be two webinar sessions: Urban Core Edition: mid to late July – Check back for details

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

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


    A few other notes:
    Applications will be reviewed, recommended and then approved by TNECD’s Grant Committee. All contracts will be sent directly to grantee for signature and returned to TNECD for final signatures and approvals. Contracts must be signed by all before work can be performed. No cost may be incurred before the grant is fully executed.    

    Organizations participating in this grant program 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.

    Please note any applicable “soft” commitments from government agencies, non-profits and/or private business and industry may also be included.

  • Apply Now

    Your application must be submitted online. Save time on your application by being prepared with all of the requirements before you begin. Plan to cut and paste your responses directly into the online format. Other than uploading your budget document, no images or additional documents may be uploaded with your application. You must use the budget document provided on the application. You can save your application. When you save your application an email is sent to you with a link so you can access it later.

    We held two webinars, one session each for the Rural and Urban Core Editions, where you could ask questions about your application. You can access them below.  access them later if you’re unable to attend.

    Rural Edition: Rural Edition: August 1, 10am CDT/11am EDT | Recording

    Note: Rural Edition Multi-Region/Statewide applicants You must submit an Intent to Apply synopsis and be approved before submitting your application for this category. Your Intent to Apply includes the geographic areas to be covered with a brief paragraph describing the project. Submit your Intent to Apply no later than August 10 by email to with “LiftTN Intent to Apply” in the subject line.

    Urban Core Edition: August 1, 2pmCDT/3pm EDT | Recording

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

    Review Application (PDF)

    Application period: July 3 to August 16, 2017


    The application period has closed.

  • 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