Upstart Cocoa Forgivable Loan

Upstart Cocoa logoCocoa City Council once again prioritized economic development efforts in the City of Cocoa with the approval of additional grants through the UpStart Cocoa Business Development program. This program, which started in 2021, was developed to help promote the growth and expansion of minority and/or women owned small businesses in the City of Cocoa.

The program is designed as a three-year forgivable loan program that awards up to $10,000 to a new start-up business or a business looking to expand into the City of Cocoa. After three years of maintaining the business in Cocoa and successful completion of the program, the loan will be forgiven. The program includes a collaboration with weVENTURE Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech to offer customized business mentorship and education through their signature Ignite 360 business mentorship program.

About the UpStart Cocoa Grant Program

The UpStart Cocoa Small Business Forgivable Loan program promotes the growth of women and minority-owned small businesses throughout the City of Cocoa. Forgivable Loans are provided to minority small business owners and entrepreneurs looking to either start a business in the City of Cocoa or relocate an existing business to the City of Cocoa to fund certain eligible expenses. The goal of the Program is to empower entrepreneurs to succeed in Cocoa, attract Minority-Owned Businesses to the City, contribute to the City's economic vitality by promoting small business, and to cultivate vibrant neighborhoods through diverse businesses in Cocoa. The Program is designed as a forgivable loan program. Funds may be awarded after successful completion of IGNITE 360 business mentoring program, administered by weVENTURE Women's Business Center at Florida Tech's Bisk College of Business. IGNITE 360 provides 6 months of customized coaching and educational training to entrepreneurs. Upon completion weVENTURE WBC will submit to the city a report on the business and an approved plan for the funding. Council will then vote to award funding to the business.   

The approved applicants must complete the 24-week business education program component and then will be eligible to be reimbursed for eligible start-up expenses up to the awarded amount. Funding provided through the Upstart Cocoa Program will be treated as a deferred loan, whereby no interest will accrue upon the principal of the total loan amount and payment to the City is deferred for a three (3) year period.  At the end of the three-year period, the loan will be forgiven in its entirety on the condition that the grantee is in compliance with the terms and conditions of the Forgivable Loan Agreement and the UpStart Cocoa Program Policy. 

Calendar icon

UpStart Cocoa Application Schedule

Next applicant round opens: TBD

Next Review Committee Meeting: TBD

save the dateUpStart Cocoa Program Informational Session

Next informational session: TBD

Meetings are held in Council Chambers at Cocoa City Hall (65 Stone St.), open to public attendance and participation. Attendance is kept and the meetings are recorded.

You can view the recording of the Jan 31, 2023 session at this link.

Who is Eligible to Participate?

check markMinority-Owned Business means any small business which is organized to engage in commercial transactions and which is at least 51% owned by minority persons. Persons of minority include African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and American women. 
check markNew minority-owned start-up businesses (2 years or less) and any minority-owned business looking to relocate into the City of Cocoa with 10 employees or less. 
check markAll applicants must be willing to participate in and complete the 24-week business education and mentorship program offered through weVENTURE.
check markAny eating and drinking establishments may be eligible for funding as long as the business derives at least 51% of its gross revenue from the sale of food and/or non-alcoholic drink for consumption on the premises, whether or not the food is cooked on the premises. This may include restaurants, mobile vending, and refreshment stands selling prepared foods for immediate consumption. All applicants who will utilize a mobile vending model will need to commit to required hours/percentage of sales/other in the City of Cocoa area.
check markThe types of businesses that are not eligible for funding under this Program include: social service providers, non-profit agencies, gun shops, agricultural services, liquor stores, medical marijuana and CBD shops, shops that sell drug paraphernalia, pawn shops, bailbond services, tattoo/body piercing parlors, check cashing facilities, adult entertainment facilities, thrift shops, nightclubs and bars, and any business or service deemed illegal.  
check markThe applicant shall not be eligible for the Upstart Cocoa Program if he/she has received Upstart Cocoa Funding, or other business assistance funding from the CRA or the City of Cocoa within the last three (3) years from the date of the current submittal, except for façade improvement programs.  
check markFor startup businesses, the minority entrepreneur is required to invest at least 10% of startup costs from non-UpStart Cocoa Program related funding sources. 

Steps in the Process to Complete the UpStart Program

Upstart Cocoa Process steps

number 1APPLY: All applicants must be eligible to participate in the program and complete the application in full by the posted deadline with all of the required documentation. Any applications received that do not have all of the required documentation may not be considered for the program.
numbers-2APPLICATION REVIEW: Once all applications have been received, the UpStart Cocoa and UpStart Diamond Square committees will review applications.
numbers-3Q&A WITH REVIEW COMMITTEE: All applicants that have submitted the required documentation and qualify for the program will then be invited to participate in the Question and Answer session with the UpStart committee. 
numbers-4PARTICIPANT SELECTION: The UpStart Cocoa and Diamond Square committees will then choose candidates to participate in the program at a Cocoa City Council Meeting. There will be 2 businesses selected for the City of Cocoa and 3 businesses selected for Diamond Square
numbers-5BEGIN 24-WEEK weVENTURE PROGRAM: The chosen businesses will then begin the 24-week business coaching and mentorship program with weVENTURE and work to refine their business plan.
numbers-6FUNDING RECOMMENDATION: Once the applicants have completed the coursework with weVENTURE, weVENTURE will provide a funding recommendation to the City of Cocoa regarding eligible expenses for the forgivable loan. This will be based on the applicants performance in the program and the strength of the refined business plan. 
numbers-7LOAN AGREEMENT: Once the recommendation is made to the City for eligible expenses, the applicant will enter into a loan agreement with the City or the CRA. (See a template of the loan agreement.)
numbers-8SUBMIT REIMBURSEMENT REQUESTS: Once the loan agreement is signed, the eligible business may start submitting reimbursement requests for eligible expenses up to the amount awarded (not to exceed the remaining loan amount of $7,500).
numbers-9FULFILL TERMS OF AGREEMENT FOR 3 YEARS: The approved applicants will be required to stay in business for three years and fulfill the terms of the loan agreement including a community enrichment element where the business gives back to the Cocoa community. Once this occurs, the loan will be 100% forgiven. 

Eligible Reimbursable Expenses

check markRent subsidy for a period not to exceed 3 months.  During this period rent payments may gradually decrease in increments to be determined by available funds.  Rent subsidy includes only the base rent amount and common area maintenance.  Home-based businesses do not qualify for rental subsidies.
check markCity fees (i.e. utility deposits, permitting fees, Business Tax Receipt fees)
check markInventory expenses generally not to exceed 25% of the loan amount.
check markMarketing Expenses, which may include marketing campaigns for goods and services, advertising in local papers and on websites, the use of outside marketing firm to design websites, and signage, with the total amount for Marketing Expenses generally not to exceed 25% of the loan amount.
check markMoving expenses for large equipment and furniture
check markOne Year Membership to the Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce   
check markOther expenses as recommended by weVENTURE.