It’s a match: A little green helps grow local businesses

Photo: Zack Wajsgras Photo: Zack Wajsgras

For small business, money is manure– it fosters growth. Charlottesville’s Office of Economic Development has launched an innovative program to provide financial fertilizer for budding businesses, encouraging them to put down roots here in hopes they bear fruit– i.e., tax revenues and jobs.

The new program, called Cville Match, uses funds from the Charlottesville Economic Development Authority for grants to Charlottesville-based start-ups that have already received federal and state grants, through initiatives like the Small Business Innovation Research program. Cville Match funds, however, can be used for any costs that contribute to the growth of the business, and individual grants can be as much as $25,000 over a two-year period.

Why give money to companies that have already gotten money? Because it increases the odds of success. Getting one of these state and federal grants, explains OED director Chris Engel, “is a pretty rigorous process”–a vetting the city doesn’t have the resources to do. Engel says the Charlottesville area “usually has four to five of these grants [recipients] a year,” so the idea behind Cville Match was to help ensure those companies succeed– and stay in Charlottesville.

Cerillo, a Charlottesville-based company that designs and produces innovative lab equipment to help researchers collect large amounts of data, is a local SBIR grant recipient. CTO and co-founder Keith Seitter says the unrestricted Cville Match grant “allowed us to file a patent, which is really critical for us–it covered the filing fee and hiring a patent lawyer–and to attend a conference to meet with our customers and help target our products to their needs.” Launched in April 2016, Cerillo now has three full-time and two part-time employees, “and the Cville Match grant was a real incentive to stay in the city,” says Seitter.

In a small city with little room for large industrial parks or business expansion, says Engel, small businesses can help build the economic base without putting pressure on residential or public space. Cville Match is one of a range of city programs–including Growing Opportunities, the Downtown Job Center, and Advancing City Entrepreneurs–aimed at supporting local small businesses.

So far, Cville Match grant recipients come from a variety of sectors, from biotech startup Cerillo and medical device company SoundPipe Therapeutics to women’s footwear makers OESH and indoor farming outfit Babylon Microfarms. Every one, says Engel, “will have an economic impact, through the company and its employees and through the companies that support their business.”

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