Venture North helps bridge funding gap for new businesses

A commercial driveway. A labeling conveyor for bottles. Fifty bridal gowns.

Little things like these had the power to make or break a new business this year in the 10-county Grand Traverse region. That’s where Venture North Funding and Development steps in. Since 2015, Venture North has awarded stopgap loans to businesses needing funds for start-up, inventory, equipment, receivables, working capital, short term bridge financing and energy efficiency projects.

Venture North Funding and Development emerged when the former Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation and the Traverse City Area Chamber Foundation merged. As the economic development division of TraverseCONNECT, Venture North provides business financing and other services across the 10-county region and explores opportunities to expand regional, state and national partnerships.

According to Executive Director Laura Galbraith, Venture North does not compete with banks but, instead, complements funding institutions as well as partners who offer technical assistance, professional services and other resources to support entrepreneurs, such as Up North SCORE, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration.

Venture North awarded 85 loans through August, totaling $5,046,476 benefiting local business ventures. Here’s a snapshot of four recent projects:

Wiggle Butts and Waggin’ Tails, LLC, 12809 S. Bugai Road, Cedar;

Owners: Dave and Kathy Crockett

Inspiration: The Crocketts brought their lifelong love of dogs to Wiggle Butts and Waggin’ Tails which they opened in September 2018 after retiring from careers in other fields. Developed as a one-stop shop for dogs and their people, the business offers day care, training, boarding and grooming services at their Cedar facility. Dave is a canine specialist with 40 years of experience training dogs, while Kathy is certified in dog daycare.

“We have spent the past three years putting together this business,” Kathy Crockett said, “which for us isn’t work. We look forward to our bosses barking at us!”

Venture North: Venture North provided gap funding to address unexpected building requirements, complementing the Crocketts’ investment and an SBA loan already secured through mBank. According to Laura Galbraith, the road commission informed the owners that they would need to have a commercial driveway leading up to their building before they could secure a building permit. mBank referred the Crocketts to Venture North to close the gap and get the project completed so that Wiggle Butts & Waggin’ Tails could open on schedule.

“If it weren’t for Venture North, we wouldn’t have been able to include some of the services we are offering,” Kathy Crockett added, noting an added benefit was referral to and subsequent contracting with a groomer who had previously contacted Venture North.

What’s next: The couple’s five-year plan calls for expanded daycare and boarding, a vehicle for pet pick-ups and installation of a training pool for the dogs.

Last word: “None of this would have been possible without the help of SCORE, mBank and Venture North,” Kathy Crockett said.


Cultured Ferments Co., LLC, 1610 Barlow St., Traverse City;

Owner: Courtney Lorenz

Inspiration: Courtney Lorenz was an avid kombucha home brewer when she opened Cultured Ferments Company in May 2015 at the Grand Traverse Food Incubation Hub as northern Michigan’s first commercial kombucha brewery. For the past three years, demand for its probiotic, fermented sweetened tea continues to grow … as has Lorenz’s passion.

“I [wanted] to share the health benefits I had reaped from this funky fermented tea,” she said, noting her desire to teach others how cultured foods affects their overall health and well-being. “My background in culinary arts, partnered with nutritional studies, blossomed into a beautiful fermentation business,” Lorenz said, noting her knowledge along with experience the beverage industry led her to create a tasteful, cost effective and approachable kombucha.

Venture North: Venture North provided a loan last April for Cultured Ferments to purchase new equipment, a labeling conveyor for bottles with a date coder which allowed packaging to become more efficient. This was the first Venture North loan made to Cultured Ferments, but the relationship began during the company’s early planning.

“Venture North has been with us throughout our growth process,” Lorenz said. “A mentor connected us to [Galbraith] early on in our business. She was always there to advise us, even if the funding source most applicable for our situation wasn’t Venture North.”

What’s next: “My favorite question!” Lorenz said, noting that Cultured Ferments just moved into its new facility, adding an extra 4,000 square feet for growth. Plans are in place for a kombucha bar and educational center to open in October.

Last word: “It takes a village to grow a community-oriented business and Traverse City has been a most excellent area for us to call home,” Lorenz said. “The gratitude we give as a team on a daily basis for the support from the community is overwhelming. We are so grateful for our customers and clients and look forward to continuing to find greater ways to serve them.”


Grace Elizabeth Bridal, 316 B N St. Joseph, Suttons Bay;

Owner: Grace Soave

Inspiration: Grace Soave opened the doors of her appointment-only Suttons Bay-based bridal shop in May 2018 and was quickly booked for the rest of the summer.
“I worked at a bridal shop while in grad school and fell in love with providing a bride-to-be with a one-on-one experience,” Soave said. “It felt like I was her best friend helping her choose her perfect wedding gown.”

When Soave decided to open her own shop, she wanted to provide brides from all over Michigan with the same experience she remembered. While researching and planning, she created a unique space designed to offer a very personal, private and comfortable experience for the bride and her family and friends. She often provides champagne, music and other details to create a personal experience.

“Choosing your wedding dress is a very hard decision,” she said. “Offering a relaxing space, all to themselves, makes each bride feels extra special.”

Grace Elizabeth Bridal is open year-round to accommodate the up-to-five-month lead time needed between order and delivery. Soave advises spring 2019 brides to start looking at dresses during fall and early winter.

Venture North: Soave had worked with the Small Business Development Center during business planning and start-up, connecting with Venture North for a loan used for start-up needs, including her first inventory of 50 bridal gowns from six designers unique to northern Michigan.

What’s next: “As the only bridal shop and tuxedo rental place in Leelanau County, I plan to become the place to find your perfect dress,” Soave said. “I’ve already had multiple brides who traveled from Chicago and Grand Rapids to see my collection. I would love to add mother of the bride dresses as well as homecoming and prom gown.”

Last word: “My slogan is ‘Fall in love again at Grace Elizabeth Bridal,’” Soave said.


StrongBrew Cold Brew Coffee, 1610 Barlow St., Suite 104, Traverse City;

Owner: Troy Daily

Inspiration: Traverse City entrepreneur Troy Daily launched StrongBrew Cold Brew in late spring. Located at the Grand Traverse Food Incubation Hub, the business distributes cold brew coffee products to convenience stores, retail shops and grocery stores through the Grand Traverse region.

“Cold brew coffee is making a huge wave in the beverage industry and is the fastest-growing drink in the beverage sector,” Daily said. “From visiting East and West coasts and seeing the growing trend of where coffee was heading, I knew there was opportunity [in Traverse City].”

Daily, who is also the owner/operator of the Daily Blend food truck, TC Ale Trail, TC Brew Bus and Kayak Bike & Brew, approached Roaster Jack.

“Roaster Jack was putting cold brew into glass jars [so] I approached him,” he said. “We came to an agreement to purchase the brand, recipe and name to take it to the next level.”

Venture North: Daily’s bank, First Community Bank, connected him with Venture North which provided a loan to purchase a 200-gallon brewing tank. The equipment allows StrongBrew to brew more than 2,200 gallons of cold brew per week.

What’s next: Daily looks forward to continued expansion to new locations as well as new lines. “We are going to be launching another chocolate flavor in the near future, along with other product lines such as tea, water and more,” he said.

Last word: “We are in over 130 locations in northern Michigan and growing every day,” Daily said.