Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union launches Idea Leap competition

Staff photo / Vice President of Business and Commercial Services Tommy Nix speaks during the Idea Leap grant kickoff breakfast at Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union in 2019 in Chattanooga.

Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union is soliciting applications for its seventh annual Idea Leap competition in which the credit union will award grants to local small business owners across its 17-county service area.

The credit union will host separate competitions in the Chattanooga, Ocoee and Northwest Georgia areas, awarding grants between $10,000 and $30,000 to entrepreneurs. Tommy Nix, vice president of business and commercial services for the credit union, said Idea Leap has provided more than $485,000 in grants and scholarships to dozens of entrepreneurs in the area during the past six years.

"Now, we're working to make the program even more beneficial by offering a total investment of $225,000 into the small business ecosystem," he said in an announcement Friday.

Applications are open online until 5 p.m. Dec. 18, and all submissions will be reviewed in collaboration with independent panels of community volunteers in each region. The credit union will announce quarterfinalists for each competition in January, and semifinalists will be selected in February based on video submissions and site visits. Then, the community will vote for one winner in each of the three areas.

During National Small Business Week 2024, April 28-May 4, the credit union will host a pitch night in each region, where the finalists will present themselves, their businesses and their plans for growth in front of the judges and the general public. At each of these pitch competitions, the first-place prize is $30,000, the second-place prize is $15,000, and three runners-up will receive $10,000 apiece.

Each small business owner may only apply for one of the three competitions, and they are asked to apply in the primary region in which their business operates and provides most of its goods and/or services. To apply, the small business must have between two and 25 employees (including the owner), annual revenue may not exceed $2.5 million and the business must be based within the credit union's 17-county service area.

The Idea Leap grant is an extension of the credit union's Idea Leap loan initiative that was created specifically for small businesses in 2016. To date, the credit union has funded more than $5 million in loans to emerging and early-stage businesses through the loan initiative.

— Compiled by Dave Flessner