Show Your Love For Local – November

Show Your Love For Local – November

Most big businesses start small, and GROW Nebraska helps the smallest and youngest entrepreneurs get the help they need to hang an open sign or grow to new markets.

“You never know which one of those businesses might become the next Valmont or Cabela’s,” GROW Nebraska CEO Janell Anderson Ehrke said.

GROW Nebraska provided crucial help to businesses and non-profits affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 by providing $23,779 in scholarship funds from January through August. From that same period in 2019, GROW provided $3,675.

These funds help businesses retain their membership or receive extra training to keep their doors open or pivot their business plans.

“As you can see there has been a tremendous need,” Janell said. “Our foundation is committed to helping Nebraska businesses digitally pivot so they can survive.”

One of those was Jasmin McGinnis of Cup of Coa

Boosting Businesses Through a Pandemic/Cup of Coa

Jasmin said a scholarship from GROW Nebraska was crucial to continuing her membership during the pandemic.

“Since this is only our third year in business, when COVID hit we were severely handicapped with thousands of dollars of product in storage, and 85 percent of our sales just gone,” she said. “Every dollar was precious and allotted for.”

Jasmin owns Barista’s Daily Grind in Kearney and Cup of Coa, a gourmet hot chocolate. She markets her product around the country, and it is sold in more than 10 states.

She said being a member of GROW Nebraska has helped Cup of Coa gain the attention of companies such as Whole Foods.

“I have tried for years to get a meeting at that table (Whole Foods), and in the end, they found me through the GROW Nebraska website,” Jasmin said. “It has also been incredible to have a ‘buy online’ option that I can share with fans of my product who may not have a store carrying it close by.”

She appreciates GROW Nebraska’s passion and dedication for each of its members, specifically how hard the staff works to connect members to resources they may not be aware of and to other members. She is grateful for her membership and for donors who supported her membership this year.

“Thank you! It’s amazing to be part of such a generous and positive community focused on growth,” she said. “I have told so many businesses about this incredible organization, and I hope in time to be able to offer support just like this for others.”

Connecting Small Businesses/MoKa’s Kitchen LLC

Karen Washington-Ogelsby, owner of MoKa’s Kitchen, thought her business would be “dead in the water” when COVID-19 hit.

Her four-year-old business provides artisan and gourmet popcorn in nearly 200 flavors (from Bourbon Maple Bacon and Tequilla Sunrise to Puppy Chow and Scotcheroo) for special events, such as weddings, festivals, graduations and birthday parties.

When the special events stopped, so did her business. But, Karen had made the wise decision to join GROW Nebraska last winter, and it made all the difference in the world.

Through a connection with another GROW Nebraska member, Cheryl Hughes of HR Poppin’ Snacks, Karen found a distributor who made her product available in grocery stores, where shoppers were still flocking to buy snacks during the pandemic. MoKa’s Kitchen popcorn is now in 50 locations across the state, including Russ’s Market.

MoKa’s also offers fund-raising opportunities for groups to raise money by selling her products.

Through GROW, Karen also connected with packaging experts (GROW Member Jay Hawk Boxes) who are helping her create packaging solutions to ship her product longer distances, and label experts who helped her improve her product’s image. Karen said Cheryl (HR Poppin’ Snacks) also helped her with labels and another member, Jasmin at Cup of Coa, helped her with packaging ideas and web design.

The GROW staff also walked Karen through establishing a Google profile for her business.

“Just getting that Google card in the mail was so exciting,” Karen said. “You can now Google me!”

Then, Karen attended GROW’s MarketTech conference in July.

“That was the best day of being a part of GROW Nebraska that I could have ever done,” she said. “I made so many connections.”

She received ideas about tasks such as getting air conditioning in her new building to where to go for funding resources.

“We just always think we know more than other people,” Karen said. “I found out you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Karen even connected with another GROW member who wants her to create a special flavor of popcorn just for his business.

And, now Karen is working with GROW staff to help her place a new product she’s working on in higher-end retail stores. GROW staff put her in touch with the UNL food processing center and helped her create new product photos.

“Basically GROW Nebraska helped me grow my business,” she said.

Supporting Non-Profits/Thayer County Economic Development Alliance

GROW Nebraska offers a half-price membership option for non-profit organizations. This year, the Thayer County Economic Development Alliance (TCEDA) also received a GROW scholarship when a new director came on board and knew how a GROW membership could help all the businesses in Thayer County through TCEDA.

New TCEDA Executive Director Carley Bruning previously worked in economic development in Phelps County and connected with GROW Nebraska in that position.

“In my previous position, I used GROW for so many in-person workshops, webinars, trainings, and the annual MarkeTech Conference is fantastic!” Carley said. “From my experience with GROW, I recognized that my new organization needed to become a member right away. With this partnership, I look forward to helping many Thayer County businesses get connected with GROW.

“A membership to GROW Nebraska is an investment in yourself and your business or organization,” Carley said. “You learn so much about marketing, digital skills, Google tips, business resources, and so much more. GROW’s team of experts will help answer your questions and work with the needs you have. As an economic development organization, they will work with me to create specific workshops and trainings that I can offer county-wide.”

Carley said the scholarship helped her non-profit organization make the financial investment of a GROW membership that wasn’t accounted for in the 2020 budget. Moving forward, TCEDA will be able to add this membership to its annual budget.  

 “I have had the opportunity to watch the scholarship program help so many small businesses in my previous position,” Carley said. “Now more than ever, it is important to give businesses and organizations a fighting chance. The scholarship is the catapult into the amazing benefits GROW offers while helping the businesses invest in themselves. Thank you to the donors who help make the scholarship program possible!”

Join GROW Nebraska in its goal of adding 100 new donors in 2020. To donate, visit 

GROW Nebraska® Foundation is a statewide non-profit training and marketing organization. Serving over 400 Nebraska small businesses, the organization provides marketing opportunities, education, and training to launch and connect Nebraska businesses to the global marketplace. GROW Nebraska’s educational programs receive federal and state funding, along with generous support from foundations and individual donors.

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