Ky. Companies Looking to Export can Receive Grants via State Trade Expansion Program

For Kentucky small businesses looking to begin or grow their international sales, funds are still available through the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP).

STEP grants, administered by the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development and awarded by the US Small Business Administration, reimburse up to $5,000 in expenses of small businesses as they seek foreign trade opportunities.

“For small businesses seeking to expand their customer base, selling abroad is an important channel to consider. Our Cabinet encourages entrepreneurs and business owners to look at the past successes of STEP-assisted companies and decide if the program is right for their businesses,” said Terry Gill, secretary of the Cabinet for Economic Development. “We truly appreciate the opportunities the Small Business Administration’s STEP grant provides to companies throughout the commonwealth.”

Kentucky received $467,000 in STEP funding for the program’s fifth year, which ends Sept. 29, 2017. Of that, $155,000 remains to support up to 31 eligible small businesses. 

Lexington-based tech startup WearWare Inc., which developed a compact, wearable HD video system called FlyWire Cameras, used a STEP grant to attend an ocean-tech trade show in San Diego last month. Although the show, Oceanology International North America, was in the US, its international-trade nature made it a qualifying expense.

Last year, WearWare used STEP grants to reimburse translation of its website into Spanish and an international sales trip to Mexico. 

“What’s been so helpful about having STEP support is, when you’re a company in one country that’s developed a product that solves problems for people in other cultures, countries, companies and industries, one of the biggest challenges is how to connect all the dots. STEP allows us to do just that,” said Jacob Isaac-Lowry, founder and CEO of WearWare. “We can meet the people in foreign markets key to making those connections – foreign embassies, commercial service reps and customers – all of whom help you to build an international distributor base. Those are long-lead collaborators, customers, lines of communication and prospects. Getting up to speed on that is critical for a growing business.”

STEP grants are designed to provide companies with the resources, connections and knowledge necessary for exporting. STEP also works to increase the volume of exports for Kentucky companies already in the international marketplace. The creation and cultivation of international demand for Kentucky-made products and services leads to business growth, investment and job creation across the state.

Allowable STEP grant expenses include:

  • Airfare
  • Meals and lodging
  • Parking, baggage and currency exchange fees
  • Ground transportation
  • Shipping fees for product samples to international prospects
  • Trade show registration fees, booth space and mission fees
  • The Gold Key Matching Service
  • Export training
  • Stipends for website translations into foreign languages
  • Meeting space audio and visual
  • Compliance

STEP is a component of the Kentucky Export Initiative (KEI). Through KEI, the Cabinet partners with a coalition of agencies and organizations. KEI streamlines and elevates the state’s efforts to help Kentucky businesses reach global markets.

Following a record year for exports in 2016, the commonwealth’s export growth ranks it among the nation’s leaders. Last year, Kentucky businesses shipped $29.24 billion in products and services to nearly 200 countries. Kentucky exports rose while the nation’s exports as a whole decreased 3.2 percent from 2015.

STEP uses the SBA’s small business size standards to determine eligibility. Those can be found at To learn more about STEP and to apply, visit Find out more about Kentucky’s exporting efforts at

Information on Kentucky’s economic development efforts and programs is available at Fans of the Cabinet for Economic Development can also join the discussion on Facebook or follow on Twitter. Watch the Cabinet’s “This is My Kentucky” video on YouTube.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development is the primary state agency responsible for encouraging new jobs and investment in the state. New capital investment announced in Kentucky in 2016 totaled $3.1 billion, spurring nearly 16,200 projected new full-time jobs. Information on available industrial properties, workforce development assistance, incentive programs, community profiles, small business development and other economic development resources is available at Follow the Cabinet, on Twitter @ThinkKentucky and on LinkedIn.

Kyndle would like to thank The Gleaner and Union County First for the use of images throughout this site.