TVFCU Announces Five Finalists in $100,000 Idea Leap Grant Competition                                                                                                     Skip to content
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TVFCU Announces Five Finalists in $100,000 Idea Leap Grant Competition

September 12, 2022

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Sept. 12) — Today, 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

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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 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


About TVFCU’s Idea Leap Grant

The Idea Leap Grant Initiative is an extension of TVFCU’s Idea Leap Loan Initiative that was created in October 2016. The Idea Leap Loan fills a void in the community for loans up to $50,000 to emerging businesses. Through the Idea Leap Grant Initiative, TVFCU is reinvesting Idea Leap Loan proceeds back into the community.


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