Growing your business can be a struggle, but there are programs to make it easier for you and your business to succeed! Small and medium-sized Michigan companies looking to expand their business through exporting to new markets may be eligible for financial assistance through Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). This guide will walk you through the general process of determining if your company is eligible, filling out the application, program guidelines and ultimately, saving your company money!
What is MI-STEP?
The Michigan State Trade Expansion Program encourages job creation in the state of Michigan by empowering small and medium-sized businesses to export their goods and services to new global markets. The program’s three primary objectives are to:
- Increase export sales by Michigan companies
- Increase the number of new-to-export companies
- Increase entry into new markets by companies already exporting
Is your company looking to increase its export sales? Or just beginning to export in general? Or is your company already exporting and looking for new markets? If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, let’s get started!
How Do You Get Started with STEP?
First, check to see if your business qualifies for the MI-STEP program. This step is easy (no pun intended)! You can either go online and review the eligibility requirements or contact your local International Trade Manager (ITM) or Regional Export Network (REN) host to find out. General eligibility requirements include:
- Falling within the Small Business Administration (SBA) guidelines and size standards: sba.gov/content/small-business-size-standards
- Demonstrating an understanding of the costs associated with exporting and doing business with foreign purchasers, including the costs of freight forwarding, customs brokers, packing and shipping, per SBA guidelines
- Having two years of domestic sales
- Demonstrating potential for export success and positive impact on the regional economy
- Providing an EIN number linked to a Michigan address
- Being in good standing with the Michigan Department of Treasury and other regulatory agencies
You are Eligible! How Do You Apply?
Now that you have read the MI-STEP eligibility requirements, and think this would be a great opportunity for your business, simply submit an online intake form to get the process started. When filling out the intake form, don’t forget to mention how you heard about the program! Once you have submitted the intake form, an International Trade Manager will contact you to set up a meeting and go over any other additional information.
Show Me the Money!
Good news for you, the maximum annual award amounts increased in 2018 from $12,000 to $15,000 per award year! (September 30, 2017, through September 29, 2018)
- New-to-Export companies may receive a maximum reimbursement of $7,000 per fiscal year
- Market Expansion companies may receive a maximum reimbursement of $15,000 per fiscal year
I do not know any boss on the face of the earth who would be disappointed with an employee coming to them and saying, “Boss, I can save our company $15,000.” You can be that employee!
How is Your Company Allowed to Use STEP Funds?
This is the best part! MI-STEP funds can be used in a variety of ways for the benefit of your company’s export-marketing activities. Let me list the ways:
- Participation in foreign trade missions
- U.S. Department of Commerce services
- Website fees (translation to foreign languages, localization to foreign markets, SEO)
- Design of marketing media
- International trade show participation
- Domestic trade show participation
- Participation in export training workshops
- Reverse trade missions
- Procurement of consultancy services
- Other export initiatives (subject to approval from SBA)
What’s the Catch?
There are a few requirements your company needs to be mindful of when utilizing the MI-STEP program but they are well worth the investment. We have mentioned just a few of the requirements below.
First, to be sure the MI-STEP program is working to benefit the Michigan economy, companies are required to complete MEDC’s quarterly sales survey for two years, to track export activity results.
Second, eligible expenses must be approved in advance by the International Trade Manager (ITM). I forgot to mention the great thing about your friendly, ITM is that they will be helping you every step of the way!
Third, companies must submit the MI-STEP program grant application to the ITM at least 30 days prior to the export-related event or activity for which the funding is desired.
It is pertinent to mention that some activities have a maximum reimbursement amount that is set by SBA.
There are programs out there wanting your business to succeed globally and YOU can be your company’s money-saving, new-market expansion, export superhero! (All because you read this blog.) If you did not read this blog but have managed to end up here, then you are still in luck because here are all the important links and documents you need to begin your company’s Michigan State Trade Expansion Program (MI-STEP) journey: