In honor of Women’s History Month, Doing More Today is focusing on women-owned small businesses that make an impact in their community.
Call it two crazy ideas adding up to one great business.
Kit Baloun and Amanda Marean wouldn’t disagree with that description as Vibrant, LLC’s co-owners.
“I called Amanda and said, ‘You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I really want to open my own agency,’” recalled Baloun of the 2017 conversation that started it all.
“That’s crazy; I was thinking about doing the same thing! I even have a name and a logo.”
Over a couple of conversations, the two former long-term care colleagues hatched a business plan to start their own home care company in Des Moines, Iowa. Today, Vibrant, LLC, helps more than 900 clients with daily living activities such as dressing and medication assistance, housecleaning, grocery shopping and transportation. Nearly all of Vibrant’s clients are on limited incomes, receiving Medicaid waiver funding to cover the services.
Vibrant also provides skill-building, coaching and mentoring services to more than 100 people with disabilities through its Supported Community Living (SCL) division.
“We’re helping our clients become more independent,” explained Baloun.
Starting their business may have seemed crazy, but the curveball the 2020 pandemic tossed their way gave that term entirely new meaning.
Vibrant, LLC, helps more than 900 clients with daily living activities such as dressing and medication assistance, housecleaning, grocery shopping and transportation.
There to help? The Iowa Center for Economic Success, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) dedicated to empowering entrepreneurs through education, capital and networking. In 2019, the Small Business Administration reported more than 650,000 people – 48% of Iowa’s population in the private workforce – were employed by small businesses. Regions Bank supports The Iowa Center, most recently providing the CDFI with a $10,000 donation in November of 2021.
“Small businesses are a significant economic driver in our communities,” said Eric Madkins, community development manager for Regions Bank. “The Iowa Center is providing entrepreneurs with vital funding and practical resources they need at each stage of their business, from concept to launch to scaling to the next level of growth.”
The Women’s Business Center, a program run by The Iowa Center, assists entrepreneurs like Baloun and Marean with launching and growing their companies. In 2021, the program served 400-plus small businesses throughout the state.
“The Iowa Center provided our largest loan,” said Baloun. “We wrote a business plan and pitched our business to them. They understood the solvency of our business. They did their due diligence. They helped us cover payroll because we were growing.”
Vibrant had come a long way from Baloun and Marean’s initial crazy ideas sketched out on a cocktail napkin in 2017.
“We started with nothing,” Baloun recalled. “Zero clients, zero employees, zero money.“
Before too long, Baloun and Marean faced the responsibility of supporting a growing team of nearly 500 employees across Iowa – 100 full-time – who had helped them grow. They also faced the challenge of providing direct care services in a socially distanced way.
“Staffing in the early days was difficult. It’s always been our biggest hurdle,” said Baloun. “In March of 2020, it was really difficult for us to do a whole lot of pivoting given the nature of our business.”
Since then, Baloun and Marean have been focused on safely taking care of both of their team members and their clients.
“It’s been a challenge with putting everyone’s concerns to rest,” said Baloun. “It’s difficult because some concerns just can’t be fully put to rest. Amanda follows the Center for Disease Control’s guidance very closely. We stocked up on PPE. That alone was investment, with those prices quadrupling in a quick hurry.”
They’ve also been focused on showing appreciation to their employees.
“We value our staff and know they are our biggest asset,” said Baloun. “Every time we can, we apply for grants that benefit our staff. We’re trying to give them the TLC they need.”
The Iowa Center provided that same TLC to Vibrant’s co-owners through its financial support.
“Oh my gosh, we just didn’t have to worry,” recalled Baloun of her reaction in learning of their loan approval. “We were able to focus on pounding the pavement, doing admissions, meeting with referral sources, and being the faces of the business. It was such a relief. It was definitely a good day.”
Two years after COVID changed everything, the current decline of cases offers Vibrant’s co-owners hope of more good days on the horizon.
“This has been something I’ve thought about a lot,” reflected Baloun. “With what we do, we need to lay our eyes on our clients and their homes and families. You just cannot do that over Zoom or on the phone. I’m looking forward to having those individual in-person relationships again. I cannot wait for things to go back to normal.”
A normal able to occur thanks to support from The Iowa Business Center.