Congratulations to our BALSA Grant Spring 2017 Finalists!

Spring 2017 BALSA Grant Awards Ceremony. From Left to Right Back Row: Alina Oltean, BALSA Foundation Volunteer; Matt Wyczalkowski, Executive Director; Theresa Owuor, Program Director; Kathleen Cook, Esso Skin Care; Tim McIntyre, My Neighbor's Garage; Latonja Flowers, Sahgol Jewelry Co; Sade Hobson Singleton, Doohicky Craftique, LLC; Candi Tenney, Rita Childers, CORE + RIND; Brittany Riehlman, Outreach Director; Tom Cohen; Reyka Jayasinghe, Technology Director. Bottom Row Left to Right: Amanda Colon-Smith, Leche Love Notes; Madeline Jackson, NanaComb Vision LLC; Jessica "Merlin" Whitman, The Tiny Hedgehog; Andrew Lau, mDental; Shannon Koenig, Insprawear.

Spring 2017 BALSA Grant Awards Ceremony. From Left to Right Back Row: Alina Oltean, BALSA Foundation Volunteer; Matt Wyczalkowski, Executive Director; Theresa Owuor, Program Director; Kathleen Cook, Esso Skin Care; Tim McIntyre, My Neighbor's Garage; Latonja Flowers, Sahgol Jewelry Co; Sade Hobson Singleton, Doohicky Craftique, LLC; Candi Tenney, Rita Childers, CORE + RIND; Brittany Riehlman, Outreach Director; Tom Cohen; Reyka Jayasinghe, Technology Director. Bottom Row Left to Right: Amanda Colon-Smith, Leche Love Notes; Madeline Jackson, NanaComb Vision LLC; Jessica "Merlin" Whitman, The Tiny Hedgehog; Andrew Lau, mDental; Shannon Koenig, Insprawear.

We are delighted to announce our Spring 2017 BALSA Grant Finalists!  These ten first time entrepreneurs will each receive a $1000 cash grant, in-kind donations of professional services, and ongoing mentorship to help start and grow their business:

  • Amanda Colon-Smith, Leche Love Notes
  • Kathleen Cook, Esso Skin Care
  • Latonja Flowers, Sahgol Jewelry Co
  • Sade Hobson Singleton, Doohicky Craftique, LLC
  • Madeline Jackson, NanaComb Vision, LLC
  • Shannon Koenig, Insprawear
  • Andrew Lau, mDental
  • Tim McIntyre, My Neighbor's Garage
  • Jessica "Merlin" Whitman, The Tiny Hedgehog
  • Candi Tenney and Rita Childers, CORE + RIND

You can read more about all our finalists here.  

Our finalists ceremony featured a panel discussion by several of our past BALSA Grant Finalists including:  Arriel Bivens-Biggs, Young Biz Kidz; Carrie Lewis, Sweet Life Gourmet;  Janelle Mack, 2Geez Catering; and Patrice Hill, Inali Jewelry. A big thanks to all of our finalists for sharing their personal experiences and to Jade Harrell , Founder and CEO of RareGem Productions for moderating!

Photos by Constantino Schillebeeckx. Program by Brittany Riehlman.

Handout from the BALSA Grant Awards Ceremony.

Handout from the BALSA Grant Awards Ceremony.

Executive Director Matt Wyczalkowski introduces moderator Jade Harrell. 

Executive Director Matt Wyczalkowski introduces moderator Jade Harrell. 

Past BALSA Foundation Finalists: Janelle Mack, 2Geez Catering and Carrie Lewis, Sweet Life Gourmet.

Past BALSA Foundation Finalists: Janelle Mack, 2Geez Catering and Carrie Lewis, Sweet Life Gourmet.

We're featured on the Entrepreneurially Thinking podcast!

We've been featured on the Entrepreneurially Thinking podcast!  Hosts Christy Maxfield and Cheryl Watkins-Moore interview our Executive Director Matt Wyczalkowski and our former BALSA Grant finalist Arriel Biggs, Founder of Young Biz Kids.  

Listen on the player below, or click here.

You are invited to the BALSA Grant Awards Ceremony, March 7th

 

The BALSA Foundation will hold the BALSA Grant Awards Ceremony on March 7 at LaunchCode - we will be giving away at least $10,000 in cash grants and $20,000 of in-kind donations to ten first time entrepreneurs.

We will feature a panel discussion with several of our past finalists, to learn about their experiences as BALSA Grant finalists and first time entrepreneurs.

Light refreshments will be provided.

Please RSVP here.

Business Director Opening

We're looking for volunteers to join our team!

The BALSA Foundation is a small, dynamic nonprofit run by volunteers passionate about promoting social equity through entrepreneurship.  Our BALSA Grant awards small cash grants, professional services, and mentorship to first time entrepreneurs who need and can benefit from it the most.  This program is funded, in part, by our partners in the local business community.  The Business Director will be mainly responsible for communicating with existing partners and establishing new ones, as well as identifying grant and corporate funding opportunities.  This position involves a volunteer commitment of 5-10 hours/week through September 2017 and is a great opportunity to build a strong professional network in the St. Louis business and entrepreneurial communities while making a real positive change in people’s lives.  If you find this interesting or know someone who does, we’d love to talk to you - see here for details and get in touch with us at executive.director@balsafoundation.org

Finalist Feature – Bonnidette Lantz with Lightenstein

It’s not just the money with the BALSA Foundation, it is also the people you get to meet.
— Bonnidette Lantz, Lightenstein

“Since the BALSA Foundation it has been unreal.” Nine days into a month long market in Belleville, IL, “I have already sold out twice.”

Meet Bonnidette Lantz, the founder and owner of Lightenstein and a 2016 Summer BALSA Grant finalist. Lightenstein sells handmade lamps that are works of art. Popular ones include a book sprouting a light and an old-fashioned camera holding a bulb in place of the lens. In Bonnidette’s eyes, almost anything can become a lamp.

Bonnidette made her first lamp out of flea market finds when she was 12. More recently, the creation of the lamps began as a hobby and grew into a business that was officially established in 2015. She had an Etsy shop to sell online, did a few shows, and was an early artist with Create Space. Yet she needed an investment in her company, every penny she made in sales went straight to parts for the next lamp. Julia Lee with Create Space mentioned applying to the BALSA Grant for a small business grant.

Bonnidette applied to the BALSA Grant and was selected as a finalist. “How has the Foundation helped me?,” Bonnidette noted, “It was huge for me.” The grant money enabled her to buy supplies in bulk to reduce production costs, which allowed her an opportunity to invest in her business and grow her company. However, Bonnidette said, “It’s not just the money with the BALSA Foundation, it is [also] the people you get to meet and throwing ideas around.”

The impact of the grant has snowballed. In less than four months she sold all the lamps made from that first bulk order and placed a second one. “For some people that [$1000 BALSA grant] might seem like only a little bit, but with that little bit, I was able to cut my costs so much that it’s allowed me grow at twice the rate without raising prices on customers,” says Bonnidette. She reports that her sales have doubled, “Last year I was so excited because I sold 10 lamps in December and I sold that in the first day of December this year.”

But it wasn’t just the money that impacted Lightenstein. Bonnidette’s business plan expanded thanks to a marketing class, an introduction to Instagram, and a fortuitous discussion with other entrepreneurs that opened up her eyes to what her business could become. “The other thing that was huge was the other recipients,” she commented. Bonnidette explained how the community connections with other finalists and entrepreneurs has been invaluable to share struggles, triumphs, and bounce ideas around. She also received an in-kind donation of a co-working space. With her expanded network and skyrocketing sales, she is grateful to have a professional place to meet clients.

Through the introduction to Instagram, Bonnidette found people all over the world interested in upcycling lamps. Combined with a conversation with other finalists regarding do-it-yourself products, a lightbulb moment occurred. “I can sell parts,” she thought, and moments later, “I can sell kits.” Beyond selling to customers who love the lamps as art, Lightenstein now has an expanded business plan to also reach customers who want to create one themselves.

Bonnidette describes her experience as a first-time entrepreneur as “scary and exciting and exhausting. It is all those things, and all in a good way. Even the scary is somewhat exciting. That’s the thing you go through so many different emotions.” She offers advice for first time entrepreneurs, “Take the first step, as simple as it sounds, just trust yourself, and take the first step. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Throw your hat over the fence and you will figure it out.”

For first-time entrepreneurs considering submitting a BALSA grant application, she highly recommends applying. Her advice: “Don’t be intimidated…just go for it.” She explained, “The worst that can happen is that you don’t get it.” She continued, “What’s great about the BALSA Foundation is that even if you are not one of the [BALSA grant] recipients, they have a great program where they will give you feedback.”

The BALSA Foundation has made a significant impact for the future of Lightenstein. Bonnidette summarized her experience with the BALSA Foundation, “I can’t express how grateful I am for the opportunity of working with the BALSA Foundation. It is a great organization. Anyone who can be involved with it should.”

 

Vision and Mission Statement

Our grant and mentorship program is designed to support individuals who most need our resources and are most likely to benefit from them.

The BALSA Foundation recently updated our Mission and Vision statement, with the goal to crystallize who we are and what we do for ourselves, our applicants, the entrepreneurial community, and for the future of our Foundation.

The original statement guided the Foundation during our formation.  After two years, four BALSA Grant rounds, and 38 BALSA Grant finalists, it became clear it was time to update the Mission and Vision statement to more precisely address who we serve and to what end.

A committee to refine the Mission and Vision statement was led by Daniel Povinelli, a board member with significant nonprofit leadership experience. Povinelli said, “By coming to a clear consensus about the problem our grant programs, outreach efforts, and mentorship programs were intended to address, we could then focus these programs in a way to make the biggest difference to the Saint Louis entrepreneurial community.” He continued, “If you know who you are, others will too.”

The Original Open-Ended Vision

The BALSA Foundation was founded in 2014 as an effort to support and expand the local St. Louis entrepreneurial community. We were created to encourage first-time entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into businesses. Many people have great ideas for a venture, however turning them into an actual business can seem an insurmountable hurdle. We aim to lower the barriers for first-time entrepreneurs and empower individuals with great ideas and passion to start their businesses.

The original Mission and Vision statement aligned with the programs we developed to provide resources and support for first-time entrepreneurs. These programs provide financial resources, mentorship, and education to empower first-time entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into businesses and connect them with the St. Louis entrepreneurial community.

While we clearly met our goals of serving first-time entrepreneurs, the original Mission and Vision statement was relatively open-ended. Povinelli said, “What was less clear was whether our Foundation was primarily addressing all first-time entrepreneurs or whether there was a population of first-time entrepreneurs that we were best poised and excited to support.”

Serving Entrepreneurs With the Most Need

The committee deliberated on the entrepreneur population our Foundation sought to support, and agreed the Foundation’s focus should remain on first-time entrepreneurs to provide them with support and resources to build their first business. However, for the BALSA Grant, the Foundation was most passionate to assist first-time entrepreneurs from underrepresented and underserved communities and demographics where there are higher barriers to entrepreneurship.

Read our new Mission and Vision statement.

“The new Mission and Vision statement crystalizes our mission by explicitly stating that our grant and mentorship program is designed to support individuals who most need the resources (small grants, mentorship) and who are most likely to benefit from them,” said Povinelli.

These changes do not alter our character or operation. Instead, the statements reflect more precisely our actions and will contribute to our long-term stability.

The updated Mission and Vision statement represents us embracing and solidifying our role and mission in the St. Louis entrepreneurial community. With respect to the new statements, Povinelli said, “The updated Mission and Vision statement sends a strong signal to the Saint Louis community that The BALSA Foundation has a specific and complementary role to play in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of St. Louis.” He continued, “We are looking to occupy that sweet spot where we support highly-motivated individuals for whom our level of support can be life-changing.”

Meet Our New Team

The BALSA Foundation held its annual elections on September 19, and elected a team of officers who bring a wealth of experience, passion, and knowledge to support our goals for the next year. Although founded only two years ago, The BALSA Foundation has already made an impact in the St. Louis entrepreneurial community. More than 500 people have taken advantage of our programs for first-time entrepreneurs, and 38 BALSA Grant finalists have received $36,000 in cash grants, over $70,000 in professional services, and countless hours of personalized mentorship and assistance. Looking ahead, the new leadership team -- all part-time volunteers -- will continue these successful programs while reaching out to communities that need and can benefit from them the most.

“I’m proud of how we’ve grown and matured as an organization, and in the year ahead we will take The BALSA Foundation to the next level,” says Matt Wyczalkowski, who was re-elected as Executive Director for a second term. “I’ve seen the life-changing impact our programs can have on entrepreneurs, particularly those from under-resourced communities, and we will work hard to share these inspiring stories. As we grow, we’re also building a strong foundation for this organization, to ensure The BALSA Foundation will be a respected presence in the community for years to come.”

 

MATT WYCZALKOWSKI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Matt is the Executive Director of The BALSA Foundation and a staff scientist at the Washington University School of Medicine, where he specializes in cancer genomics and data visualization. Born in communist Poland, Matt immigrated as a child to the US with his family and grew up in Pennsylvania. He attended Penn State University and the University of California at Berkeley before receiving his PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Washington University. With St. Louis as his home, Matt is passionate about helping make this a city where everyone has an opportunity to thrive. Matt consulted on a number of The BALSA Group projects and is the founder of SafeTGA, advocating for cyclists and pedestrians in St. Louis.

 

BRITTANY RIEHLMAN, OUTREACH DIRECTOR

After completing her Bachelor’s degree in New Media Design from SUNY Cortland, Brittany developed her entrepreneurship experience as a freelance graphic designer. Following a move from New York to St. Louis, she utilized those skills at a start-up boutique agency. Currently she is a graphic designer at Major Brands Premium Beverage Distributors, helping to develop their visual message. Brittany has been involved with The BALSA Foundation since January 2016, assisting with the development of events, idea support, and the Foundation's branding and identity.

 

THERESA O. OWUOR, PROGRAM DIRECTOR

Theresa is a postdoctoral research associate at Washington University School of Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology researching the effects of obesity on uterine cancer risk. She received her BA from Prairie View A&M University and her PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology from Washington University. She participates in the Trans-disciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) program, working on an interdisciplinary research team toward a common goal. As an experienced consultant with The BALSA Group she particularly enjoyed projects in technology transfer for the Office of Technology Management. As the Program Director of The BALSA Foundation, she is sharing her experience in idea development to help entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground. Beyond the St. Louis community, she co-founded the Rehema Education Fund, which provides scholarships to Kenyan students from single-parent homes.

 

WYATT GUTIERREZ, FINANCE DIRECTOR

Wyatt is currently pursuing an MBA/JD joint degree at Washington University. He is thrilled to serve as the Foundation's Finance Director after becoming involved in The BALSA Foundation in May 2016. His chief goal is to keep the financial details under control so the Foundation’s operations run smoothly and efforts can be focused on assisting entrepreneurs and building and participating in the vibrant St. Louis start-up community. Outside of the Foundation, he is proud to work at the East St. Louis Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to encouraging entrepreneurship across the river.

 

REYKA JAYASINGHE, TECHNOLOGY DIRECTOR

Reyka is pursuing a PhD in Molecular Genetics and Genomics at Washington University. She has spent three years in leadership roles in the Young Scientist Program (YSP), a Washington University volunteer organization aimed at attracting students to scientific careers. As Director of YSP, she worked with administrators, members of the community and volunteers to develop new programming; maintained and identified new funding from granting sources; and effectively ran a completely volunteer based organization with over 100 active volunteers. Through this experience, she learned the importance of mentorship in supporting and educating young minds. She is now helping The BALSA Foundation provide resources and mentorship to first time entrepreneurs in St. Louis. As the Technology Director, she will strive to more effectively streamline the application process for the BALSA Grant and maintain a strong connection with the community through website development.

Announcing the Spanish Entrepreneur's Roadmap

We are delighted to announce the Spanish Entrepreneur's Roadmap!  This Spanish-language version of our popular Entrepreneur's Roadmap was developed in collaboration with the St. Louis Mosaic Project and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It will reach Spanish-speaking Saint Louis entrepreneurs, a highly-entrepreneurial population underserved by the local startup ecosystem due in part to language barriers.  The Spanish-speaking Entrepreneur’s Roadmap will begin to fill this gap by providing Saint Louis-focused advice on business formation.

Read more about this initiative and other St. Louis Hispanic Heritage Month events in this press release.

The Mosaic Project, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the BALSA Foundation proudly celebrate Hispanic Heritage month.

The Mosaic Project, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the BALSA Foundation proudly celebrate Hispanic Heritage month.

Congratulations to our BALSA Grant Finalists!

We are delighted to announce our 2016 BALSA Grant Finalists!  These ten first time entrepreneurs will each receive a $1000 cash grant, in-kind donations of professional services, and ongoing mentorship to help start and grow their business:

  • Arriel Biggs, Young Biz Kids
  • River Fronczak, Coffee, Curls & Cupcakes
  • Iris Green, Scoops and More
  • Liz Kuba, Tea Rex
  • Bonnidette Lantz, Lightenstein
  • Carrie Lewis, Sweetlife Gourmet
  • Alicia Lohmar, Ladybits Toiletries
  • Karen Rogier, Arlyn Arlene
  • Katy Thomas, Gig{a}bit Rocks
  • Sompit Vasey, Ma Yim Enterprises

The BALSA Foundation awarded an additional $500 cash award, representing contributions from the public raised through Give StL Day, to Alicia Lohmar, who was judged by our external reviewers as having an outstanding business idea and fit to the BALSA Foundation's mission.

You can read more about all our finalists here.  See press release.

Summer 2016 BALSA Grant Awards Ceremony.  Left to right: Matt Wyczalkowski, Executive Director; Sompit Vasey, Ma Yim Enterprises; Bonnidette Lantz, Lightenstein; Liz Kuba, Tea Rex; Iris Green, Scoops and More; River Fronczak, Coffee, Curls & Cupcakes; Arriel Biggs, Young Biz Kids; Carrie Lewis, Sweetlife Gourmet; Alicia Lohmar, Ladybits Toiletries; Karen Rogier, Arlyn Arlene; Katy Thomas, Gig{a}bit Rocks; Katie Adastra, Outreach Director; Paimun “PJ” Amini, Business Director.

Handout from the BALSA Grant Awards Ceremony.

Summer 2016 BALSA Grant is Open for Applications

Dear Friends of the BALSA Foundation,

We're delighted to let you know that we are accepting applications for the Summer 2016 BALSA Grant through July 15th, 2016!

We will award at least $10,000 in cash awards and $30,000 of in-kind donations for professional services to first-time St. Louis entrepreneurs.  Winners will join the BALSA Foundation finalist community and receive one-on-one mentoring and other resources to help them launch and grow their business.  Learn more about the BALSA Grant here.

The deadline to apply is end of the day July 15.  We will notify all applicants of their status by mid-August, and publicly announce the next class of BALSA Grant finalists at our awards ceremony on September 1 - details to follow. 

For more information, please contact us at executive.director@balsafoundation.org.

With best wishes for a great summer,

The BALSA Foundation Team

 

Announcing our Generosity Campaign

We're excited to announce our Generosity campaign!

To help support first-time St. Louis entrepreneurs and grow the BALSA Grant, we are reaching out to the community to help. The Generosity campaign a crowd funding effort to gather donations from those who support the Foundation’s mission of entrepreneurship as a path to social equity and prosperity in St. Louis.

See our new video and learn more about the Generosity campaign.

The BALSA Grants Awards Ceremony

Congratulations to the Spring 2016 BALSA Grant finalists! Photo by Constantino Schillebeeckx.

We are delighted to announce the Spring 2016 BALSA Grant finalists and their awards!

Our Spring 2016 BALSA Grant program received 143 submissions from a variety of business types and industries, which were reviewed by an external panel of local entrepreneurs. Ten finalists pitched their ideas at our awards ceremony and received cash grants totaling $10,000.  All finalists also received in-kind awards of over $30,000, including co-working space from Tech Artista and T-Rex, legal services from Polsinelli, accounting services from BDO, and marketing support from Clear To Launch.  

Our finalists and their BALSA Grant cash awards are,

  • Carla C. Soll, Anointed Cake Creations, $2250
  • Laura Shields, Arabicano, $1500
  • LaTausha DeBoise, ReddyWear, $1250
  • Pamela Nolan, Script-Loons, $1000
  • Janelle Mack, 2Geez Catering, $1000
  • Ashley Clay, Bella Noir Event Rentals, $1000
  • Sonia Deal, DEAL-C2, $500
  • Arnold Tutson Jr., Rescue Cuts, $500
  • Thurman Rhodes, DADDYS, $500
  • Karen Buckley, MicroPopShop, $500

Learn more about our finalists.

The BALSA Foundation will continue to engage with our finalists as they establish their business and work to make it grow.  We will provide workshops on business topics, one-on-one mentoring, and opportunities to meet with local business owners for in-depth guidance and advice.

Congratulations and best wishes to all of our finalists!

Photos by Michael Kilfoy, studiox.us.

See our press release.

 

Announcing the New BALSA Grant Finalists!

 

We are pleased to announce the Spring 2016 BALSA Grant finalists!

We had a record 143 applications for this round of the BALSA Grant.  Our ten finalists were selected by an external committee of local entrepreneurs and vetted for eligibility and fit to our mission.  All are exceptionally deserving first-time entrepreneurs, for whom BALSA Foundation resources and mentoring are likely to make a significant difference for their businesses. Congratulations to all!

Read more about these and former winners.