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Idea Leap Grant Top 10 Semifinalists Announced

September 3, 2021

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Sept. 3) — Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union is proud to announce the Idea Leap Grant semifinalists for 2021.

“We congratulate these ten entrepreneurs who have advanced to Idea Leap Grant semifinalists,” said Tommy Nix, vice president of business and commercial services. “The pandemic has certainly been challenging, but especially for small businesses. The success of America’s small businesses is essential to our economy. The Idea Leap Grant Initiative will provide funding to five local small businesses to help them further develop their businesses. Whether the entrepreneurs use it for capital improvement projects or for marketing purposes, we know that it will have a direct impact on their success. As a not-for-profit credit union, it is our mission to help our community thrive.”

TVFCU initially received nearly 150 Idea Leap Grant applicants. Then the quarterfinalists were invited to submit a 5-minute video about why they should receive a grant. An independent panel of volunteer judges reviewed the 23 submitted videos and grant applications to select the ten finalists.

Now, we need the community’s help to identify the People’s Choice Finalist. Visit or check out TVFCU’s YouTube page to watch the videos. To get access to the digital ballot, text “TVFCU” to 833-369-4063. Text the corresponding letter associated with their team number. Voting closes at 5 p.m. ET on Friday, Sept. 10.

The finalist with the most votes at 5 p.m. ET on Friday, Sept. 10, will be named the People’s Choice Finalist. The grant selection committee will select the other four finalists. Then five finalists will compete for one of five grants valued at (1) $21,000, (1) $15,000, (1) $10,000, (1) $7,000 and (1) $5,000.

TVFCU’s Fourth Annual Idea Leap Grant Pitch Competition will take place during Startup Week Chattanooga on Tuesday, Oct. 19. TVFCU is closely monitoring the COVID-19 surge. For the health and wellbeing of all involved, TVFCU may have to pivot from an in-person event to a virtual event. Follow TVFCU on social media for the latest competition details.

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 $3.8 million in loans to emerging and early-stage businesses through the loan initiative. Furthermore, TVFCU has awarded more than $125,000 in Idea Leap Grants to more than 100 small businesses.

For more information about the Idea Leap Grant, please visit


Fourth Annual Idea Leap Grant Finalist Facts

Champion Christian Learning Academy

Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Owner: Cynthia Evans

Established: 2017

Grant Wishes: To purchase furniture, playground equipment and learning curriculum. 


Chatt Taste Food Tours, LLC

Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Owner: Briana Garza

Established: 2019
Grant Wishes: To build out the region's first electric mobile dining car, an elevated dining room on wheels.


Lil Mama's Chicago Style Hoagy 

Location: Chattanooga, Tenn. 

Owner: Tiffany Pauldon-Banks 

Established: 2019

Grant Wishes: To invest in continued staff training, marketing, catering and new equipment. 


Neutral Ground Chattanooga

Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Owner: Kenyatta Ashford

Established: 2020

Grant Wishes: To use as seed money toward a brick and mortar location.


Salon Posh

Location: Athens, Tenn. 
Owner: Allison Stiller 
Established: 2018
Grant Wishes: To expand salon creating a space for continued education for license professionals, as well as adding manicure tables, pedicure chairs and treatment rooms so that we can offer more services. 


Sleepyhead Coffee LLC 

Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Owners: Brandon Carruth and Christian Harris 

Established: 2018

Grant Wishes: To assist in expanding into a larger space where we are able to offer more pastries, a full food menu and being able to host more community-based events.


The Bitter Bottle

Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Owner: Kaleena Goldsworthy-Warnock

Established: 2017

Grant Wishes: To use these funds to build out branding and marketing, creating a more robust ecommerce site, and hiring additional employees to expand and grow.


The Cupcake Club and MORE!

Location: Cleveland, Tenn.

Owner: Kyla Dean

Established: 2016

Grant Wishes: To invest into the much needed expansion of our manufacturing and retail space, manufacturing materials, and employees to help with product distribution and efficiency, and would also allow opportunity to procure new accounts and marketing that would help fulfill the demands for products.


W Salon

Location: Chattanooga, Tenn.

Owners: Erica and William Wright

Established: 2017

Grant Wishes: To help expand and enhance Glam Party Sessions by establishing W Salon's GLAM ON THE GO mobile studio.


Wild Violet Permaculture, LLC 

Location: Signal Mountain, Tenn.

Owners: Nathaniel Bankhead and Bryant Hawkins

Established: 2020

Grant Wishes: To use the grant monies for three different objectives. First, we need to create comprehensive training programs and materials for both our employees and clients. Secondly, we need to invest in our future native plant nursery on Signal Mountain. Thirdly, we want to scale our compost production and distribution program.

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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 164,000 members who live, work, worship, volunteer or attend school throughout the 13-county service community. With more than $2.2 billion in assets and 21 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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