Programs, experts at ECU help new businesses get started and existing businesses get stronger

April Kelly has taken some guidance from programs and experts at ECU and turned it into the building blocks of a company she hopes will give parents a vegan alternative to baby formula.

April Kelly is building her vegan baby formula
business with help from experts at ECU.

Kelly started with the Small Business and Technology Development Center and from there went to I-Corps@ECU and Accelerate Rural NC to build her business plan for Sure! That helped her garner a $10,000 NC IDEA Micro Grant in October — one of only 22 businesses selected and the only from Greenville.

“I’m currently in the process of manufacturing my first batch of product to launch out in the market,” Kelly said. “I’m 100% positive that the ECU I-Corps program really made the difference (in attaining the grant). Through our participation we were able to (narrow) down our target audience and clearly distinguish our customer profile through customer discovery.”

Sure! is based in Greenville with production in Raleigh. “It is our goal to plant roots here in Greenville and manufacture our product in-house within the next three to five years,” Kelly said. “Part of our mission is to provide jobs throughout our community.”

Entrepreneurs such as Kelly are why ECU is bullish on programs that help new and growing businesses.

“ECU supports new and small business growth across the state through several programs and resources dedicated to entrepreneurs,” said Rachel Bridgers, a business counselor with the Small Business and Technology Development Center at ECU. “Through this business ecosystem, ECU is well positioned to drive transformation in our rural communities through our services, resources and community partners.”

Accelerate Rural NC focuses on helping small businesses in rural regions gain access to global markets with innovative products. The rural business accelerator hosts 10-week networking and learning sessions for cohorts of 20 business owners. The program has funding through July.

Since it began in September 2020, the program has helped 125 companies from Asheville to the coast. More than 300 have applied to participate.

Cameron Higley ‘20 is one. He started Tailgate Classics in his dorm room and since then has grown the vintage clothing business into a $300,000-a-year operation. He recently opened a storefront at 304 Evans St. in Greenville. Dennis Tracz, director of ARNC at ECU, approached him about participating in the program.

“Accelerate Rural was an awesome connection builder and provided us with lots of valuable insight for my business,” Higley said.