OGDEN — As he’s charted the development of his business, focused on reimagining the Book of Mormon with dramatic artwork, Jared Miller has found a partner in Weber State University.
Through the university’s Wildcat Microfund, meant to help would-be entrepreneurs get their business ideas off the ground, he received a grant that helped cover the cost of some of the artwork for the project. More significantly, though, he’s received mentoring as he transforms his idea into a business, My Scriptures, getting answers to “high-level” questions as well as more practical advice on launching a new operation.
“They’re actually looking at solving the problems you have,” said Miller, who used to live in Ogden but has since relocated to Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Anna Zack launched Zack Family Farms, an “urban flower farm” in Ogden, late last year, also tapping into the Wildcat Microfund. Funds received will help in acquiring a walk-in cooler, but, significantly, she too noted the hands-on help provided thanks to the microgrant program, started a little less than a year ago.
“The growing part came naturally to us. The business aspect is absolutely new to us,” she said, and that’s where the mentoring provided through the Weber State experts helped so much. Program advisors would generally answer any question she put to them — on marketing, creating a business plan, budgeting and more.
Weber State officials announced creation of the program, previously known as the Wildcat Seed Fund, in November last year thanks to a $719,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Some $250,000 of that is available in the form of small grants of up to $2,000 each, or microgrants, and with the program now getting off the ground, boosters are working to get the word out to those with an idea for a new business who might need a bit of help.
“Now we can handle a lot more applications than maybe we would’ve been able to handle a year ago,” said Guy Letendre, economic development director for Weber State. With Latinos accounting for about a third of Ogden’s population, he’s particularly eager to encourage participation among would-be Hispanic entrepreneurs.
So far, 29 of 56 applications submitted have been accepted, with some $17,500 provided in the form of grants and $8,500 more in the form of service awards. Mentoring is the other key aspect of the initiative, open to the general public, not just those connected to Weber State University.
The recipients run the gamut, including the operators of a firm that markets self-defense pens, Nix Personal Defense, and the owner of a startup called French Vanilla that bills itself as an “upscale romantic shop for couples.”
Bob Gruhler, manager of the Wildcat Microfund, said launching a business is sometimes the only way some people can advance, underscoring the potential impact of the grant program. “Sometimes this is the only way some of these people can get out of a minimum-wage job,” he said.
His intent is to give applicants wide berth in their proposals, though they’ll face scrutiny before they’re formally accepted. “Our bias is to say yes to an application,” Gruhler said.
‘TOTALLY INVESTED’For Miller, starting My Scriptures was a way to tell the stories of the Book of Mormon in a more compelling manner, through dramatic, elaborate artwork accompanying the original text. He’s starting with the Book of Helaman, one portion of the Book of Mormon, one of the sacred texts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Eventually, he’d like to update the entire Book of Mormon with graphic-heavy content.
As is, the Book of Mormon contains perhaps 10 images, and adding to that, Miller hopes to engage more people “in a new way.” He’s “totally invested” in the project and in the process of finishing the first installment.
Jake Nixon and wife Bre of Bountiful — college students — launched Nix Personal Defense, hoping in particular to create a way to combat sexual violence. The young business’s trademark product, the Nix Pen, “comes fully loaded with useful features to get you out of scary situations, such as a loud alarm, a stainless-steel point, a bright LED light and more,” reads the company website.
The pen is already selling on the University of Utah and Davis Technical College campuses in Salt Lake City and Kaysville, respectively, and Jake Nixon is searching for additional outlets. Funding via the Wildcat Microfund, he said, has helped with marketing via social media.
Pamela Udy of Ogden, operator of French Vanilla, says the advice, support and encouragement she’s received from program mentors has been invaluable. “Without them, this business would not exist,” she said.
The business sells “fun props,” aphrodisiac oils and more, and Udy hopes to expand to clothing. “We really have a focus on romance, on connection and the relationship,” she said.
Zack Family Farms has received two grants, Zack said. Along the way, though, she’s had to fine-tune her business plan given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The original plan was to grow flowers for weddings and other events. But with such activities scaled-back due to COVID-19 guidelines, the focus has turned to sales at farmers markets and deliveries to customers of fresh bouquets.
Indeed, Gruhler said the focus of the Weber State program is providing grants on very specific needs and getting entrepreneurs to really zero in on the details of their plans. He encourages “sequential grants,” that is, smaller awards in a step-by-step way as a business plan evolves and grows. “We’re not trying to rush them through. We want them to be ready,” Gruhler said.
More information is on the Weber State website at weber.edu/entrepreneurship/WildcatMicroFund.html.