Success Story: Katie Kimball, Owner of Twin Cities Trapeze Center

MyTalk 107.1 Entrepreneur of the Month for September

For as long as crowds have gathered to marvel at death-defying feats of courage under the big top, young adventure-seekers have dreamed about running away to join the circus. And while most carnival enthusiasts ultimately end up choosing more traditional career paths, Katie Kimball—a formally trained dancer inspired by a Cirque du Soleil performance—headed west when she was in her twenties to learn about the circus arts.

Katie’s education at Trapeze Arts in Oakland, California, was even better than she imagined it would be. Just a single knee hang on the fly bar and she was hooked. In addition to honing the movement and performance skills she mastered through many years of dance, Katie learned everything there was to know about the circus business—the rigging, equipment, safety, staffing. She received valuable hands-on training and spent the next decade working with highly-skilled mentors while getting paid to do what she loved.

Katie and her husband Jake, also an aerial artist, moved back to Minnesota in 2012 after the birth of their first child. Katie wanted to be near family, but she wasn't ready to give up her career on the trapeze. Her goal was to open a school like Trapeze Arts in the Twin Cities. She quickly realized that becoming a small business owner would not be easy. Finding a space with 40-foot ceilings proved to be a challenge, not to mention the capital required to have a rigging fabricated.

Katie’s credit history was perfect and she had a solid plan, but traditional banks weren't willing to finance a trapeze school. She considered using credit cards to get the business off the ground, but wasn't ready to rack up the high interest debt. She did some research and met with Sunrise Community Bank; local and family-owned, they were committed to building the communities that they served. Although Sunrise was unable to fund the business, the banker she met with loved the idea, and knew just where to direct Katie—to WomenVenture.

WomenVenture took a chance on Katie and provided her with a microloan. After securing the funding she needed, everything moved forward quickly, including signing a lease for a space in one of the Hamms Brewery buildings in Saint Paul. Heeding the advice of her journalist parents, Katie launched her own PR campaign, reaching out to local media to help elevate awareness for the business. The first group of students were booked even before Twin Cities Trapeze Center opened its doors in February 2013.

Business has been good—trapeze classes are filling up weeks in advance, and Katie also added dance and fitness classes. She admits that while she is an expert at trapeze, she has a lot to learn about being a business owner. She has been grateful to have the guidance of WomenVenture every step of the way. "When I learned that WomenVenture provides free consulting and classes for its loan clients I thought, 'Jackpot, I win!'" Katie said. She takes advantage of every opportunity, even if it doesn't specifically apply to Twin Cities Trapeze now, because she knows it could be relevant as her business continues to grow.

Katie says it was the partnership between Sunrise Community Bank and WomenVenture that helped her realize her dream of becoming an entrepreneur. She was deeply moved that a banker cared enough to help her get the funding she needed. "She could have easily said, 'Sorry, we can't help you,' and sent me on my way," said Katie. "But she didn't; she made the phone call to WomenVenture that changed my life."