Kesley Ebbs, from Jacksonville, was drawn to Ely, Minnesota by dogsledding, but over the past five years he’s made it his home. During that time, he’s been working with Minnesota North College – Vermilion (previously Vermilion Community College) and other organizations like the U.S. Forest Service and city of Ely to help grow sustainability projects like planting trees and clearing dead trees that could be dangerous during wildfire season.
In January 2021, Ebbs decided to bid on projects himself and start his own business, Growing Futures. He specializes in natural resource projects including, invasive species removal, tree and stump removal, hazardous tree removal, and general land management projects.
“I saw a very unique need that needed to be filled,” said Ebbs, who previously served in the Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa. “I was thinking, ‘Well, if this needs to be done, then I think I’m the person who could get it done.’”
Since connecting with the Entrepreneur Fund in 2021, Ebbs has grown his business through various EFund lending and advising services:
- In 2021, a working capital SBA Microloan was used for equipment (chain saws, trailer, other tools) and cover his expense through winter months (employee payroll, equipment maintenance)
- The microloan gave him access to the EFund Expert Network, connecting him to experts in Quickbooks training and marketing for his website and social media needs.
- In October 2022, he completed the Stride program with a cohort of entrepreneurs of color in the region. In that program, he worked with an EFund advisor to complete a strategic business plan, develop cash flow projections and receive feedback from peers and successful small business owners.
- In 2022, an EFund Stride working capital loan and grant was used to purchase additional equipment and offset the cost of payroll, insurance and maintenance during the off season/winter. He also accessed legal services to create client contracts through the Expert Network.
Steppingstone for area college students
Ebbs employs four employees through the winter and up to 10 positions in the busy, summer months. Most of his employees are part-time and most are either current or previous Minnesota North College – Vermilion students.
“I think it’s important to get people into the natural resource field early,” Ebbs said. “A lot of times they’re trying to apply for Forest Service or DNR jobs which requires like two years of experience, but how do you get that experience if you can’t even get into these organizations. So, my company is kind of that steppingstone.”
From the Stride program, Ebbs said he was able to walk away with a business plan that takes that college student employee turnover and seasonality of his business into consideration.
“I really wanted to keep people on payroll during the winter, but I wasn’t sure how to go about that,” said Ebbs. “So, the course really helped me set some goals. If we’re going to operate during the winter, this is how much you have to raise prices. This is how many hours that you could manage. And it helped me set some realistic short-term goals to get through the season.”