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TVFCU Announces Five Small Business Finalists in Idea Leap Grant Competition

Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (TVFCU) announced five finalists in the Fifth Annual Idea Leap Grant contest. These entrepreneurs will participate in a pitch competition as they strive to win one of five grants to support and expand their small business – grand prize: $50,000, first place: $20,000, and three runners-up: $10,000.

This year, nearly 150 small businesses applied for the competition. This was reduced to 23 quarterfinalists, then, after the quarterfinalists submitted videos and hosted site visits, 10 semifinalists were selected. Now, the five Idea Leap Grant finalists for 2022 are:

Be Caffeinated
Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.
Owners: Christopher Wood & Douglas Lee
Established: 2019
Grant Intentions: Purchasing new equipment to add New York-style bagels to their bakery lineup
Mountain View Low Vision Services
Location: Hixson, Tenn.
Owner: Cheryl Saucier
Established: 2018
Grant Intentions: Purchasing devices that she could leave with potential referrers to showcase products. Would also create a video training library for gatekeepers, occupational therapists, families and VIPs (visually impaired individuals)
Neutral Ground Chattanooga
Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.
Owner: Kenyatta Ashford
Established: 2020
Grant Intentions: Purchasing two professional combination ovens that increase efficiency in the kitchen
NewTerra Compost
Location: Wildwood, Ga.
Owners: Normand Lavoie & Michael Ryan
Established: 2020
Grant Intentions: Constructing a building for office space that would provide a resting place from outdoor manual labor, enhance NewTerra’s productivity and work environment and offer indoor plumbing. Will also put finished product indoors so it’s available without being weather-dependent and will be able to mix compost into soil blends
Sleepyhead Coffee (People’s Choice Award Winner)
Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.
Owners: Christian Harris & Brandon Carruth
Established: 2018
Grant Intentions: Opening an improved, larger bakery space for vegan and gluten-free pastries
“We’re very proud of these five deserving small businesses who have advanced to the Idea Leap Grant finals,” said Tommy Nix, vice president of business and commercial services. “We’d also like to thank the community for electing the People’s Choice Finalist.”

Last week, TVFCU invited the community to vote for their favorite Idea Leap Grant semifinalist via text message. Nearly 3,000 votes were cast, and Sleepyhead Coffee received the most votes, making them the People’s Choice Finalist.

An independent panel of volunteer community judges selected the other four finalists. Dionne Jenkins, vice president of diversity and inclusion at TVFCU, leads the judging committee.

Judges include:
Jennie DeCook – Director, TSBDC at Cleveland State Community College
Lisa Dotson – Executive Director, Main Street Athens
Emily Gilliam – Credit Analyst, BrightBridge Capital
Chuck Fisher – Partner and Director, Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison, P.C.
Sarah Mattson – Small Business Specialist, TSBDC at Chattanooga State Community College
Vickye Bone – Vice President, Urban League of Greater Chattanooga
Briana Garza – Co-owner of Chatt Taste Food Tour and the 2021 Idea Leap Grant winner

For the final stage of this year’s Idea Leap Grant contest, TVFCU will host a pitch competition on Oct. 18 at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. At this event, each finalist will pitch their business to the judges who will award the five grants.

To further celebrate entrepreneurship in the area, TVFCU is also hosting a luncheon on Oct. 18 featuring several prominent small business owners. Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel P.C. is also teaming up with the credit union to host a reception before the pitch competition.

Each event is open to the public but, due to limited space, they are RSVP-only. Stay tuned to TVFCU’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn for registration information.

The Idea Leap Grant is an extension of the credit union’s Idea Leap Loan Initiative that was created specifically for small businesses in 2016. To date, TVFCU has funded more than $4 million in loans to emerging and early-stage businesses through the loan initiative. Furthermore, TVFCU has awarded nearly $200,000 in Idea Leap Grants and scholarships.

For more information about the Idea Leap Grant, please visit

About Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union

Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (TVFCU), a not-for-profit financial cooperative, was established in 1936 when 57 Chattanooga TVA employees pooled $500 to create the member-owned credit union. Today, TVFCU serves more than 170,000 members who live, work, worship, volunteer or attend school throughout the 17-county service community. With more than $2.4 billion in assets and 23 branches throughout the area, TVFCU is the largest credit union in Southeast Tennessee. In 2021, Forbes named TVFCU Best-In-State Credit Union. For more information about TVFCU, please visit

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