We help new entrepreneurs climb their own ladders to success.

The First Rung Foundation, also known as First Rung Partners, is a 501(c)3 private family foundation established in 2020 to provide entrepreneurs with funding to help launch a startup or accelerate an early stage business in eastern North Carolina, with a priority focus on Carteret County.

Our goal is to make this region more attractive to young entrepreneurs by providing micro-loans, coaching, and education so that new business owners can turn their passions into sustainable profits. We want to invest in your business to help you build your own ladder to success.


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Eligibility & Application


Do you have a great idea for a new business to start in Carteret County, NC?


Do you have an early stage business and need an investment for business-related costs?


Have you completed the Small Business Academy and Money Management Basics course at Carteret Community College?


Do you have a business plan, marketing strategy, pricing structure, and bookkeeping skills?

First Rung provides low-interest (prime rate) micro-loans up to $10,000 to young entrepreneurs (ages 21-50) who plan to start or currently have a small business located in Carteret County. Funds must be used for approved business-related costs, such as space, inventory, equipment, marketing, advertising, or technology.

Loan amounts are determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the business needs and the intended purpose for the funds. If approved, a separate packet of loan documents must be completed, including a Business Loan Agreement, Promissory Note, and a Security Agreement.

Did you answer 'yes' to the questions above? Start your application today!

Our Partners

First Rung values partnerships and collaborations in order to maximize community resources.

Carteret Community College’s Small Business Center offers the Small Business Academy and Money Management Basics Course at no charge to participants. Successful completion of these courses, with the approval of the Small Business Center Director, ensures eligibility for an entrepreneur to apply for a First Rung micro-loan. Business roundtables and ongoing networking opportunities are available, and First Rung loan recipients are encouraged to participate.

Carolina Small Business Development Fund, a Certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), offers a wealth of resources and expertise for small businesses in North Carolina. This non-profit aims to create opportunity by fostering economic development in underserved communities through capital, business resources, and policy research to support small businesses.


Founders Walt Sliva and Laura Benson have more than 60 years of combined experience in business and non-profit leadership. Walt has a successful insurance industry career including CEO level leadership of privately owned companies, taking them from purchase through turn-around and growth to sale. He launched the first of his own successful firms as an entrepreneur in 1999. He is known for building exceptionally accountable, disciplined, high-performing teams and for tackling business challenges with creativity and humor.

Laura completed a 30-year nonprofit career at the Executive Director level of human service organizations. As an ordained United Methodist minister, she led churches for a decade before moving into community-based agencies serving vulnerable people, with a focus on families with children. She is known for building collaborations and fund development. Laura and Walt are married with one daughter and two Labrador retrievers. They live in Beaufort, NC.


Get in touch—Laura Benson:
[email protected]