STEP Grant Program
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
Applications will be evaluated by a review committee on a competitive basis as they are received and proposals must be submitted by the applicant electronically. Applicants can submit an electronic copy of their application and proposal to Jackie Geiger, Minnesota Trade Office, at Jackie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Activities planned through the end of the program year can be submitted for review at any time. However, early applications are encouraged, and applications involving travel should be submitted at least two months before planned activities in order for the MTO to have sufficient time to review and process applications.
For More Information
Contact Jackie Geiger at 651-259-7485.
Funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Other Financing Programs
International Trade Finance Guide
The U.S. Trade Information Center's Trade Finance Guide is a good resource that provides an overview of export finance resources.
U.S. Small Business Administration - Office of International Trade
The SBA offers several trade financing programs. Contact the SBA's Minnesota District Office at 612-370-2324 for additional information about accessing SBA financing programs.
Export-Import Bank of the United States
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 Minneapolis at 612-348-1213 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 startup 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.
(Story featured on KTCC TV, Rochester)