$1 Million in Grants Awarded to 10 Impactful New Small Businesses through the Target Zone Startup Program, funded by Thurston County and Administered by the Thurston Economic Development Council

Kelly Wynn opened Ikonic Wings to bring deliciously bold flavors and extra crunchy wings to the community while simultaneously creating job opportunities and feeding the homeless. Photo courtesy: Kelly Wynn

The pandemic brought a surge of uncertainty, but with that we saw a great deal of resiliency and comradery emerge as well. People banded together and organizations formed to help support the struggle of small businesses across the nation. Locally, community stakeholders formed the coalition Thurston Strong as part of an economic response and recovery initiative to provide essential funding and resources to businesses in need. Recently, the Thurston Economic Development Council (EDC) and Thurston Strong launched and awarded the Thurston Strong Target Zone Startup Grant to 10 promising entrepreneurs looking to open new businesses in the area. Each startup received $100,000, creating a $1 million impact in our small business community to help our newest entrepreneurs build and grow. This initiative was supported by federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding awarded through Thurston County.

Thurston County Support for Small Businesses

Tevin Campbell  standing at a grill
Tevin Campbell established Jerk an’ Tingz to bring mouth-watering, authentic Jamaican food to you, whether for a private party or special event. Photo courtesy: Tevin Campbell

The Thurston Strong Economic Response and Recovery plan was put together to bring resources to the small business community in Thurston County. The American Rescue Plan Act allocated funding for small businesses across the U.S., so Thurston Strong developed the Thurston Strong Target Zone Startup Grant using these funds. “The goal of the Startup Grant was to address economic inequity of the pandemic for people in areas that were most affected by the impacts of COVID-19,” shares Mayra Pena, the BIPOC business community liaison for the Thurston EDC. The grant application was made available online March 1 and welcomed applicants that were within a specific target zone or had a variable annual income at 60% or below the area median. With this criteria, Thurston Strong was seeking to support aspiring entrepreneurs as part of a critical component of the broad Thurston Strong Economic Response, Recovery and Reset Plan.

Every applicant received a thorough review and was offered additional support to help them establish themselves and position themselves as a viable contender for the grant. “All those who wanted help with writing a business plan were provided a scholarship to our Business Enterprise Startup Training (BEST) program,” shares Mayra. “Whether they got the grant or not, each applicant was in a better position to move their business forward and many who received technical assistance have continued to work alongside us.”

Harrilyn Smith of AMB General Contractor, LLC headshot
Harrilyn Smith started AMB General Contractor, LLC with the mission to provide greater opportunities for minority women to join the ever-growing construction industry. Photo credit: Heather L. Dyson

Over 50 applications were received and scored by advisors from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) based on the strength of their business plan and community impact. The top ten awardees are:

These impactful small businesses were awarded their $100,000 grant funding at the end of August, and are now able to further their brand and mission in the community.

Thurston Strong Grant Recipient VBNC Physical Therapy

Nelson Daniel Rojas Mieres of VBNC standing for a headshot
Nelson Daniel Rojas Mieres started VBNC Physical Therapy in October of 2021. As the sole physical therapist, he is happy to provide a personal, one-on-one rehabilitation experience to each and every patient. Photo credit: Heather L. Dyson

Before the pandemic, most physical therapy offices had their physical therapists conduct a majority of the care and treatment during the appointment. Daniel always felt this time was critical to connect with his patients and truly understand their individual recovery. To his dismay, reopening after COVID-19 created a shift in the industry that left him with little time with his beloved patients. “When COVID happened, there was a lot that changed,” Daniel recalls. “Of the full hour that patients were paying for, they would only see me for about 20 minutes and then the technician would take care of them for the rest of the session. I had an issue with that, especially when we were getting double booked and that time was getting shorter and shorter. My view was the patient deserves the best, and it is very hard to find the root of the problem when you only see them for 20 minutes every 3 to 4 weeks.”

Daniel knew he had to make a change in his life to be able to provide the level of care he knew his patients needed. In November 2020, he discovered a book written by a fellow physical therapist in Renton, Washington called, “How to Start Your PT Clinic” and became inspired to chase his own dream. Daniel was ready to embark on his own to create a personalized and customer-centered rehabilitation experience through his own practice. With the help of Sean, Jennifer, and Mayra at the Thurston EDC, Daniel was able to get essential support he needed to begin building his new business, VBNC Physical Therapy. Mayra encouraged him to apply for the Thurston Strong Target Zone Startup Grant, and with his exceptional mission and community impact tin mind, VBNC Physical Therapy was selected to receive one of the $100,000 grants.

Eunice Ndungu of Bloom + Brew with flowers in her hair and in front of her
Eunice Ndungu opened Bloom + Brew Cafe with the goal of employing disadvantaged youth on the verge of homelessness.
Photo courtesy: Eunice Ndungu

“We showed Thurston Strong our mission to generate more job opportunities and offer the one-on-one care our local community deserves,” Daniel says. “We had the heart, the vision, and commitment, but we didn’t have the funds. I am so grateful for all of the help and support from the EDC that got us here.” VBNC Physical Therapy proudly opened its doors in October 2021 and is helping their patients get better faster through their personal approach.

The Thurston EDC and Thurston Strong have been honored to serve small business owners in their endeavors. They are eager to see opportunity emerge for entrepreneurs and the community alike as these new startups continue to grow. 


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