TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A local organization is awarding Tampa Bay minority businesses with $50,000 marketing grants to give them the boost they need amid the pandemic.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Vinik Sports Group launched “Backing the Bay” in early March. It’s a new program where minority-owned businesses (minority ethnicities, women, veteran, or LGBTQ) can apply for $50,000 marketing grants. Those selected businesses will work with VSG to create a new marketing strategy including brand videos, written features, radio spots, custom graphics, and more.

It’s an opportunity people like Sara Fludd couldn’t deny.

“I’ve always loved waffles, since I was 5-years-old,” Fludd said.

Fludd is the founder and CEO of Pop Goes the Waffle. It’s a pop-up food truck that has every waffle one could imagine and they are all made from scratch.

“We call them waffles you can walk with because it’s like a bagel or a toaster pastry,” she said. “It’s sweet and you don’t even need syrup.”

Pop Goes the Waffle is a small, Black, and woman-owned business that has been running for three years.

“I love being able to be an example to people so they see what’s possible,” she said.

During the pandemic, Pop Goes the Waffle shut down for months, but Fludd is getting back on her feet after being awarded the $50,000 “Backing the Bay” grant. Fludd is the first business to benefit from this opportunity.

“It was a total surprise,” Fludd said. “With COVID and without COVID, a small business could never ever afford this kind of package for media and marketing.”

Eryn McVerry, the senior vice president of content and brand strategy of VSG, says the program is a way to show how diversity and inclusion efforts are being put at the forefront of the Lightning and VSG’s efforts.

“It’s important for us from a (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) perspective that we not only showcase what we are doing internally but what we want to do externally as it relates to DEI and supporting those in the community,” McVerry said. “What we want to be able to do is to support, uplift, and amplify. hopefully that paying it forward will allow other businesses to pay it forward too.”

Fludd says she is grateful for this opportunity.

“It’s amazing because as we see…, women and minorities are continuously underrepresented and never have a level playing field. So anytime an organization reaches out to help, that’s incredible,” Fludd said.

VSG will select a business monthly until the end of 2021. To submit an application, visit the “Backing the Bay” website.

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