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Inside the shop at 42 S. Seminary St. in Galesburg, bottles glitter with warm light.

Malley Farms Small Batch Canning sells jams, jellies, and other specialty foods.

Owner Nikki Malley started canning foods almost ten years ago.

“I loved doing small batch canning, and I started developing my own flavors,” Malley said. “So I started, very low key, started selling in the summer at the Galesburg farmers market. And that worked well with my Knox schedule, and I had more time in the summer. So it was very much a hobby for a number of years.”

Before running a business full-time, Malley was a professor of music at Knox College for almost 19 years. As time went on, her love for canning foods grew, along with her sales.

But it was increasingly difficult for her to keep up with her hobby and her job at Knox. So last year, she made the bold decision to devote herself fully to canning food by opening the shop.

After a year of running her business full time, Malley calls her entrepreneurial journey “a happy accident.”

Supporting Malley on that journey was a startup grant from the city of Galesburg and the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development.

“It pushed me to organize some things, get my business plan in shape for other people to see. I had a business plan in my head, but I hadn’t put it down on paper in a formal way,” she said. “Part of the grant process is creating a business plan, submitting that for review to a committee, to determine whether they are going to recommend you for that grant. And that process was really helpful to me.”

The Minority/Woman-Owned Business Startup Assistance Grant includes funding up to $10,000.

Malley stated that the money the grant offered was definitely very helpful in starting her business, but equally helpful — if not more so — was presenting her business plans in front of the review committee.

“That part of the process helped me build confidence, in the way that I speak about being an entrepreneur,” Malley said.

The meetings with the review committee, which is made up of experts from fields such as banking and real estate, also connected Malley to more resources that she constantly consulted to make her business more profitable.

“The confidence building, the resources, are just as important as you getting a check,” she said.

The logo for Malley’s business was designed by Kelly Fisk, who is a recipient of a start-up grant from the city as well.

Fisk received the grant in November 2023. Her company, Fisk Design, is offering services in web development and graphic design.

Fisk, who went to college in California as a music major and was later a professional singer, moved to Galesburg with her husband after their wedding.

Although she did not complete a degree in California, she gained important skills that are necessary for an entrepreneur, and they became a vital part of her ventures.

“I had some gigs that I was getting paid. But in most of the gigs, for me to get paid, I had to sell tickets. I had to get people to go. I had to be the promoter. I had to promote these venues and my own act,” Fisk said when reflecting on her lessons learned in California.

When Fisk arrived in Galesburg, she first worked with an immigration agency, and later launched her own agency. Then she started working at Knox College and took advantage of tuition benefits for employees.

She graduated from Knox with a degree in design.

Fisk said she made a deliberate decision to become an entrepreneur to use her wide range of skills gained earlier in her life.

“When I was looking into user experience and getting into tech, I was worried about ageism. There are a lot of 25-, 23- year-olds competing for the same job. I love working with young people, but I felt like it was going to be a real task for me to convince my hiring manager that. Why am I trying to fit into that role when I have a holistic talent in marketing and business when I should be taking advantage of that?” Fisk said.

Determined to take full advantage of her talents, Fisk decided to launch her own business.

Soon, Malley, a close friend of hers, recommended she apply for the grant.

Fisk’s business is in its starting stage, but it already has collaborated with Knox students and other businesses in the area, employing a wide range of talents at work, with Malley’s logo as an example.

Fisk and Malley both stated that finances are the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur. They recommend focusing on finances early on, and, as Fisk put it, “Don’t expect the cash to flow in if you don’t do the work.”

Those interested in the Minority/Woman-Owned Business Startup Assistance Grant in Galesburg can find more information on the city’s website.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR’s news department please consider making a financial contribution.