Grant awarded by local foundation to help support women and minority-owned businesses in Jacksonville

Lisa Meeting in her Sneads Ferry Cafe Frutta Fresca location.
Lisa Meeting in her Sneads Ferry Cafe Frutta Fresca location.

A grant from a local foundation has been awarded that will help to support minority and women-owned businesses in the Onslow County area.

Jacksonville-Onslow Economic Development Partnership, Inc. received a $100,000 grant from Truist Foundation to support racially and ethnically diverse and women-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs in Jacksonville and Onslow County, according to a recent newsletter from JOED.

Jacksonville-Onslow Economic Development Executive Director Mark Sutherland said one of the major goals published in their 2019 strategic plan was to implement more gap financing, which supports small businesses.

The JOEDP Committee has created the Community Business Loan Fund, and the grant from Truist represents the fund's initial seed capital.

"A business has a business plan or a project that they're trying to execute, and they work with their local commercial lenders and bankers and say the bankers can only lend them 90% of what they need for that business plan or project," Sutherland explained. "Say they're 10% short or 5% short or 25% or whatever, they need gap financing to execute their plan. That's where the Community Business Loan Fund comes in."

One small business that could benefit from this grant money, is Sneads Ferry's Cafe Frutta Fresca, and owner Lisa Meeting is excited about the opportunity.

Meeting opened Cafe Frutta Fresca in 2017, after spending some time in Italy and falling in love with gelato. Meeting's gelato is all-natural and made from scratch, and she said the premise of the whole idea for the business was to help stop human trafficking.

The goal is to sell her gelato all over the world, and a portion of sales will go to help stop human trafficking.

"My goal is to ship our gelato all over the world," Meeting said. "We've had buyers from Japan, Costa Rica, Shanghai, Sweden and we just went to a mission in Mexico and four buyers want to buy our product there. Our issue has been capacity because we only have one small gelato machine, so we have enough to supply our locations but not enough to supply the big stores that are coming to us."

That's why funds from this grant could really help business owners like Meeting, who hopes to build a factory.

"If they were able to give me the loan, then it would help to build this factory," Meeting said. "We want to be able to process our own gelato and sorbet from scratch like we do now but in huge quantities. We'd be able to produce 1,600 pints per hour, 12,800 pints per day, 64,000 pints per week, so we'd be able to produce 256,000 pints per month just from the big industrial machine."

Meeting also hopes to provide her products to schools, distribute product with her own freezer trucks, grow her own produce and more.

Cafe Frutta Fresca gelato pints.
Cafe Frutta Fresca gelato pints.

Chairman of the Community Business Loan Fund Committee Scott Riggs grew up in Onslow County and said in the newsletter that he's proud of the positive changes that have and continue to take place. He added as Onslow County and the surrounding area continues to experience economic growth, the need for additional funding sources for small businesses has grown.

"With the opportunity to engage potential dynamic partners like Truist Foundation, to help increase access to capital resources for business owners regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, we are opening doors that we trust will lead not only to greater opportunity of success for local small businesses, but also strengthen the fabric of our community," Riggs said.

Sutherland added Truist not only awarded JOEDP the grant but was the first to step up and give JOEDP their very first dollar of seed capital for the Community Business Loan Fund.

He said Truist is going to be able to deploy that capital in support of small businesses shortly after the first of the year.

"The idea is to be partners with the local bank, saying hey, bank, if you have a business owner that comes in there and they're trying to get the business plan together and they're coming up a little short, give them our card, they call us, we help them out," Sutherland said.

Sutherland added the committee will decide as a group where and when to deploy resources. Although the Community Business Loan Fund hopes to help all types of small businesses, Truist's funds specifically will focus on women and minority-owned businesses.

Onslow County Market President for Truist Terri Ashby said in the release that their purpose at Truist is to inspire and build better lives and communities, and that for communities like Onslow County, small businesses are a powerful and positive force - fueling employment, productivity and economic growth and mobility.

“For women and people of color, who have been historically excluded from other means of wealth-building, small business ownership can be a path to prosperity," Ashby said. "Truist Foundation is proud to help underserved small businesses succeed by providing access to financial support and the resources they need to thrive through the JOEDP Community Business Loan Fund.”

Reporter Morgan Starling can be reached at 

This article originally appeared on The Daily News: Onslow County small businesses could benefit from this recently awarded grant