Donna Probes: Financing options for small businesses

Donna Probes

Never be afraid to dream. This is the creative visioning process that plants seeds for wonderful opportunities.

That’s what Traverse City entrepreneur Brandon Williams did. In fact, the concept he saw for his own business started with dreaming up wild and crazy applications for his 3D printer. One of his early creations as DreamLab Industries was the “Fishy Pinchy.” This is an ingenious, biodegradable plastic fish that serves as a closure device for chips bags, bread bags and other things.

The idea took off like wildfire. Soon, Brandon’s unique product was on Amazon and in stores everywhere. Customers were clearing them off the racks as fast as Brandon could manufacture them in his makeshift garage facility. Brandon came to SCORE with this wonderful problem. I had the great pleasure of working with him.

With this initial success under his belt, Brandon wanted to grow his business — but needed the financing to do so. He worked with Venture North and was granted a generous expansion loan. This enabled him to purchase new, state-of-the-art 3D printers and other sophisticated manufacturing equipment.

Being a veteran, Brandon wanted to work with another veteran-owned company when thinking about branching out. He is now partnered with 4c Plastics in Muskegon. Having the ability to do rapid prototyping and full service product development, he upgraded the name of his business to DreamLab3D. Now Brandon is running with the big dogs in the 3D printing technology world, and soon will add continuous carbon fiber and metal 3D printing capability.

Brandon’s tenacity paid off, but many entrepreneurs like him can hit a wall when seeking financing. The good news is there are many options for those who do their homework with diligence and foresight.

Banks and credit unions are eager to partner with entrepreneurs who show the promise of future profitability. After all, financial institutions are in the business of making money. So if you can show that you have the ability to make money with a business idea, you become an attractive customer.

Traverse City is very fortunate to have two resources geared toward economic growth and job development.

Venture North offers non-traditional financing for business expansion or start up. This powerhouse resource offers technical support, networking assistance and help with finding the right financing package — some offering zero collateral or the flexibility to make interest-only payments.

Northern Initiatives is a non-profit community development financial institution (CDFI) that provides loans to small business owners and entrepreneurs. An extensive menu of coaching and manufacturing resources is also offered in order to help businesses reach maximum profitability and job growth potential.

The newest idea for securing capital is crowd funding. This is a collective effort by people who network and pool their money together, usually via the Internet, in order to invest in and support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. Internet platform examples are,, and

For smaller business ideas or cottage industry endeavors, a savings program is available through the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency. By enrolling in a Michigan Saves Individual Development Account, qualifying individuals can receive up to $2,000 in matched funds for a business start up or expansion.

Lastly, don’t forget to look at any family resources that might be available. I recently met with a SCORE client who was interested in buying a business that only had non-tangible assets — meaning brand-name recognition, good will and a large customer list. Since a bank or credit union loan might be difficult to secure in this case, we advised this client to partner with supportive parents, asking them to front the cash by accessing their home equity line of credit. Family financing should always be documented with a signed promissory note along with repayment terms — so that there is no room for misunderstanding or possible family discord.

Meeting with a SCORE mentor is the best place to start when putting together business plans and cash flow projections that can help lay the groundwork for successful financing. Your Traverse City SCORE chapter can help you put together a compelling portfolio to take with you to your first meeting with a potential funder. Sign up for a mentoring session at

Donna Probes, MBA, spent 10 years as a small business owner. She is retired from the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and is active as a SCORE mentor as well as a professional musical performer.

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