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Alison Gowans
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Aug. 17, 2023 – When customers walk into Food 4 Paws, a pet food and nutrition store at 4330 Czech Lane NE, golden retrievers Ruby, Bella, and Kally are often at the back of the shop, waiting to welcome them with friendly barks and wagging tails.

They’re the unofficial sales associates supporting owner Jana Crane, who opened the store in 2017 to fulfill both her dreams of owning her own business and working with animals.

“I call it my divine intervention. I’ve always loved animals. It was literally like God slapped me on the head and said, ‘Hey, you need to do this,’” she said. “I finally knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I made it happen.”

Starting a business is more complicated than having a good idea, however. To get her dream off the ground, Crane worked with the MICRO Loan program, run in collaboration between the East Central Iowa Council of Governments (ECICOG), SCORE, the Small Business Development Center at Kirkwood Community College, and the library.

The program provides both mentorship and money – a loan of $1,000 to $10,000 to help entrepreneurs with their small businesses. It can help someone start a new business or expand an existing one. The loans are available to Cedar Rapids residents and have a four percent interest rate up to three years.

The program is a revolving fund, meaning it is self-sustaining – as old loans are repaid, new loans are made. Those who want to apply can make appointments with librarians Rebecca Vernon at the Downtown Library or Nancy Geiger at Ladd Library. To make an appointment, patrons can either email them at and or call the library at (319) 261-7323.

The librarians will go over the applicant’s business plan with them and help them figure out if the program is the right path, address questions and concerns, and help connect them to resources, including funding sources and mentors.

The library also built a collection of reference materials to support small businesses, which can be found on the second floor of the Downtown Library.

Geiger said the goal is to help people succeed, and sometimes that means connecting them to information rather than money. She has worked with entrepreneurs who didn’t end up applying for the loan after she helped them focus in on their needs and identify opportunities.

“Sometimes it turns out people don’t need a loan as much as someone to bounce ideas off of and find resources,” she said. “A lot of small businesses don’t make it, and we want to make them as likely to make it as we can … Ideally, we would like the loan to be a sidestep into a small business, rather than a jump off a cliff.”

For Crane, the loan helped her stock the shelves when she first opened her business. Along with carrying several brands of pet food, she sells supplements, treats, toys, and other supplies for dogs and cats. Her focus is on holistic, integrative health for pets, and she also offers nutritional consultations to help pet owners determine the right food and supplement blends for their pet’s individual needs.

Since 2017, 24 small businesses like Cranes have gone through the MICRO Loan program, with a total of $228,200 lent out. Eighteen of those businesses are still operating. More than the numbers, however, it’s the connections she’s helped build that Geiger finds rewarding.

“I like seeing people get a clearer idea of how they can make their dreams come true,” she said.

Jana Crane talks to a customer standing with her dog in her pet supply shop.