Several programs provide grants, loans and loan guarantees, working capital, credit or insurance to help companies become export ready, help new exporters make their first foreign sales, or help current exporters expand into new markets.
NOTE: STEP funds for the current fiscal year are exhausted (pending any funds that might have been encumbered but are not used). We expect new funding to be available July 1, 2017.
The STEP program provides financial and technical assistance to qualifying Minnesota small businesses with an active interest in exporting products or services to foreign markets.
Participants may be first-time exporters or companies that are currently exporting but are interested in expanding into new international markets.
Financial Assistance Available
Small businesses may apply for reimbursement of up to $500 for export-training that will result in the development of an export strategy or up to $7,500 for approved export-development activities, including:
Participation in trade missions
Exhibiting at trade shows or industry-specific events
Translation of marketing materials
Development of foreign language websites
Gold Key or other business matchmaking services
Company-specific international sales activities
Testing and certification (such as CE marking) required to sell products in foreign markets
Eligible companies must fit the SBA definition of a small business, based on annual sales or number of employees, and:
Have been in operation for at least one year
Be operating profitably, based on U.S. operations
Have an understanding of the costs associated with exporting
Have a strategic plan for exporting (unless applying for an export-planning grant)
Activities must be pre-approved in order to be eligible for reimbursement. Companies MAY NOT APPLY for reimbursement for activities that have already taken place.
Eligible companies must also have products or services that are appropriate for the target market and must agree to participate in surveys and provide information on program outcomes.
How to Apply
Complete this application packet. The application is a fillable-saveable pdf. If your web browser is Chrome, Firefox or Safari, you must save the application packet to your computer and then open it with Adobe Acrobat before you will be able to fill it out and save your work.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is the official export credit agency of the United States. Ex-Im Bank's mission is to assist in financing the export of U.S. goods and services through a variety of insurance, loan and guarantee programs. Minnesota-based companies should contact the Ex-Im Bank office in Chicago at 312- 353-8081 for assistance. Learn more about Ex-IM Bank.
Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)
OPIC supports U.S. investment in emerging markets worldwide, fostering development and growth of free markets. OPIC Financing provides medium- to long-term funding through direct loans and loan guaranties to eligible investment projects in developing countries and emerging markets. By complementing the private sector, OPIC can provide financing in countries where conventional financial institutions often are reluctant or unable to lend on such a basis. Learn more about OPIC.
Market Development Cooperator Program (MDCP)
MDCP is a competitive matching funds program that builds public/private partnerships by providing federal assistance to non-profit export multipliers such as states, trade associations, chambers of commerce, world trade centers and other non-profit industry groups that are particularly effective in reaching small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). MDCP awards help to underwrite the start up costs of exciting new export marketing ventures which these groups are often reluctant to undertake without Federal Government support. Learn more about MDCP.
U.S. Trade and Development Agency
One of the TDA's primary activities is the grant funding of feasibility studies and other project planning activities for major projects in developing and middle-income countries. The studies are conducted by U.S. private sector firms and represent a wide range of host government high priority sectors, including energy, transportation, telecommunications, information technology, manufacturing, minerals development, and the environment. Learn more about USTDA.
STEP Success Stories
Pepin Manufacturing Grows Exports with Help from Minnesota Trade Office
Just a few years ago Pepin Manufacturing was cutting jobs, but now the company is making a footprint worldwide.
In the unassuming building along Highway 61 in Lake City, everything is Minnesota-made by fewer than 50 employees. Dan Denn manages Pepin Manufacturing, where if it's sticky, chances are they can make it.
"Here we're taking different tapes at different widths, and slitting them down to widths,” said Denn, walking through the part of the facility that slits and packages medical-grade tape, among other kinds.
The company also makes things like stim pads used by physical therapists and doctors, supplies used in testing for sleep disorders, and defibrillator pads.
Pepin Manufacturing makes things on special order from companies everywhere, including the lint rollers distributed by Home Depot.
"We make millions of these lint rollers every year,” said Denn, holding up one of the lint rollers being manufactured at the plant.
Just two years ago, Pepin Manufacturing made a push to expand their reach. Now, this little company from Lake City exports to countries all over the world.
"We get grant money but we also get from the trade office, they’re very supportive in terms of research,” said Dave Zinn, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Pepin Manufacturing.
Zinn recently participated in a trade mission to Dubai, something unheard of for PMI until a state program awarded the firm $7,500 to explore options in foreign markets.
"We probably would have been hesitant, if not had avoided that step to go into the international market without the support of the Minnesota Trade Office,” said Zinn.
PMI is one of 50 Minnesota businesses chosen for the STEP program to increase jobs and revenue. Now, PMI distribute its products in South America, Europe, Canada, Mexico, and Asia.
"Some of the quality of life for some people, in some cases, are being improved because of products we make in Lake City, Minnesota,” said Zinn.
The Minnesota Trade Office has approved more than $309,000 to help 50 small businesses like Pepin Manufacturing reach out to other countries and grow their companies here in Minnesota.