Startups have eye on downtown Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — A competition for a handful of business start-up incentive packages has been whittled down from an initial 40 to 12 semifinalists, five of which will get a tremendous boost filling some of downtown Middlebury’s vacant storefronts.
Kick Start Middlebury is a collaboration of the Better Middlebury Partnership (BMP), Addison County Economic Development Corp., Addison County Chamber of Commerce, Vermont Small Business Development Center and Middlebury College. Patterned after a similar program in Wilmington, Kick Start will award incentive packages to up to five stores committed to making downtown Middlebury their home. Each package will include a $20,000 grant and additional supports (up to a $5,000 in value) for such things as marketing, advertising, printing and consulting services.
The Kick Start grant fund of $110,000 was made possible by an anonymous donation of $50,000 (through a local charity known as “Table 21”), a $10,000 contribution from Rotary Club of Middlebury, and $50,000 from the town of Middlebury.
Forty Kick Start hopefuls submitted letters of interest, and they’re a study in diversity, creativity and enthusiasm for a spot in the heart of Addison County’s shire town, according to judges of the contest. Kick Start organizers at the outset pledged to applicants that they’d remain mum on specifics of the proposals through the final selection process. But the BMP did release some general information on the applications as a whole. For example, of the 40 letters of interest received:
•  11 are in the restaurant/food/drink category (27.5%).
•  14 (35%) are retail-oriented.
•  Five (12.5%) can be classified as “experiential.”
•  Four (10%) are in the health/beauty category.
•  Six (15%) fall in “office/non-profit/other” domain.
Also, according to BMP officials, 10 of the proposals come from Vermont-based businesses interested in expanding either into larger spaces, or establishing another branch of their existing enterprise. Only a few applications came from out-of-state, while several were submitted by Addison County residents.
Seven proposals were submitted by businesses that would either be relocating from out of state to Middlebury, or expanding from a digital-only platform into a brick-and-mortar location.
Also, 23 of the submissions involve first-time ventures — though a few of them are from existing local business owners interested in operating a different type of business in the area.
And the list includes proposals from people representing different racial and ethnic makeups.
Karen Duguay, BMP executive director, said the evaluation committee used a ranking system to pare the applications down to 12. Among other challenges, committee members will need to make tough decisions on which proposals have the best chance to be successful, and which would fill a community need. Applications that can meet both those criteria will have hit the jackpot.
Stay tuned here for more updates about Middlebury Kick Start.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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