Lightning small business grant is building winners off the ice

$50,000 grant helps businesses often forgotten
Pop waffle
Posted at 5:30 PM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-12 17:30:24-04

TAMPA BAY, Fla- — Back in March, we met Sara Fludd and her husband inside their gourmet waffle food truck called “Pop Goes the Waffle.” It was just a few days into a $50,000 marketing grant given to them by the Tampa Bay Lightning. And it came at just the right time.

It was a rough 2020. “I don't know that I'll be able to rebuild that income loss if we can't turn it around,” Fludd told us referring to their outlook going into 2021. The "Backing the Bay" grant started in March.

It is geared toward small, minority, woman-owned, veteran, or LGBTQ-owned businesses. The program sponsored by the Lightning helps with media, marketing and production videos. It also provides prime advertising real estate inside Amalie Arena for Lightning games. “Just in March alone we saw a 13% plus rise on Facebook and Instagram and we saw our engagement go up almost one-third on the social media platforms and the great thing about that is usually you see a huge peak and it comes back down but the great thing for us is it never went back down as low as it was,” said Fludd now 7 months later.

Then came another national $10,000 small business grant for Pop Goes the Waffle and a personal mentorship with some higher-ups at Pepsi and Frito Lay. It also gave Fludd a chance to meet actress Reese Witherspoon. “We got to meet her on a webinar which was amazing. She is so down to earth and so wonderful and gave us some of the best advice about being small business owners and female founders,” says Fludd.

Right around the same time that Fludd’s food truck hit hard times in 2020, so was Darin Bahl. For years, his floral design studio in West Tampa called "Tailored Twig" was taking off when the pandemic shut them almost completely down for a year. No events, no weddings. Then he came up with a plan.

A personal, virtual floral design session with his clients. It turned the client into the florist over Zoom as Bahl taught them his craft. “The idea was to hand-deliver [the floral kit] it to their doorstep and then have them tune in virtually and have them go stem by stem with me materializing something beautiful,” said Bahl. Then in June, his business was selected by the Backing the Bay program.

He says it helped guide Tailored Twig with marketing and made their video production value better. Tailored Twig advertisements could be found inside Amalie Arena during the Lightning's Stanley Cup run. Bahl recalls one of the best moments was being on the big screen at Amalie Arena and watching the Gay Pride flag being hoisted to the rafters inside the arena.

The grant also helped with their local and national marketing. “Now weddings are coming back full force and we're going to have a record year this year which is amazing,” says a thankful Bahl. It proves the Lightning aren't just interested in building winners on the ice but also out in the community. “You can't put a price tag on it. It's amazing and it's just opened up a lot of doors for us,” says Fludd.