A cool quarter-million dollars sure sounds like a nice Christmas present. Katie Wilson and her team at Davenport-based TapOnIt, a messaging technology company, are certainly celebrating the hard-won gift.

The five-and-a-half-year-old firm – which Wilson founded with her sister Sara Castillo — was recently awarded a $250,000 Innovation Acceleration Propel fund award by the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) Board.

Davenport-based TapOnIt Gets $250,000 Iowa Economic Development Award

Katie Wilson (left) and her sister Sara already work in 18 states and hope to more than double their staff by next December.

TapOnIt provides a platform that enables businesses to reach, engage and convert opted-in customers through personalized multi-channel messaging, known as TapOnIt Technology. The platform helps automate a brand’s entire customer engagement and retention strategy.

TapOnIt Deals is the company’s branded, national database of over 300,000 consumers who have opted in to receive offers and promotions from restaurants, retail and entertainment businesses via text. The company’s award is designated for growing the team, the database and continuing product development.

The Iowa Innovation Acceleration Fund promotes formation and growth of businesses that engage in transfer of technology to competitive, profitable companies that create high-paying jobs.

“The state grant is really meant to be for growth,” Wilson (TapOnIt CEO) said this week, noting they will expand into new markets, including more developers and sales staff.

TapOnIt has over 71,000 subscribers in the Quad-Cities (promoting 200 local businesses), and over 300,000 in 18 states. The Iowa grant will help power growth nationwide, including more than doubling their 20-person staff to about 60 one year from now, she said.

“We’ll make sure we’re continuing to grow that national database, sharing, working with larger national franchise brands, which leads to organic growth,” Wilson said.

Davenport-based TapOnIt Gets $250,000 Iowa Economic Development Award

Sara Castillo (left) and Katie Wilson started TapOnIt in 2015.

In 2016, a year after the company launched, TapOnIt was awarded a $100,000 demonstration grant from IEDA. “That was super helpful, it was kind of cool,” Wilson said.

“The additional funding they provide, it is fantastic,” she said of the new grant. “I think one thing we don’t do a great job in Iowa is bragging about ourselves. There are great resources available to people wanting to grow something here. It’s a huge help, and I’m happy to have that, especially with the year we’ve all been dealing with.”

“Our business has definitely been heavily impacted by Covid,” Wilson said, noting their main advertisers (restaurants and retailers) have been devastated by the pandemic. “Restaurants are scared, with good reason. Everybody’s been very hesitant to spend money even on advertising. When it comes to advertising, it tends to be the first thing that goes.”

“It’s the opposite of what should happen,” she said. “When you stop advertising, you’re shutting off the faucet to customers through the door. We dropped 80 percent in revenue from March to May. We felt things were rebounding a little bit in July, and it started to get bad again.”

“We definitely didn’t see the rebound we hoped with holiday shopping,” Wilson said.

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While last month’s Black Friday was the biggest online shopping day ever, until Cyber Monday, many consumers shopped online with non-local outlets, she said.

“What that does to our local economy is really sad,” Wilson said. “Working with the chamber, to push the importance of shopping local. It’s

Davenport-based TapOnIt Gets $250,000 Iowa Economic Development Award

Sisters Sara Castillo (left), TapOnIt president, and Katie Wilson, CEO.

key to the economy. Also the education of it — people don’t understand how important local business is, not only the mom-and-pop independent business, but the local Target and Walmart, with employees who spend, those dollars go back on the streets.”

With the Iowa economic development program, it offers financing to eligible businesses through two program components that correspond to different stages of growth for investment-grade, high-growth enterprises.

The fund is split into these programs:

  • Propel awards (which TapOnIt recently got) up to $300,000 to accelerate market development for companies that have critical management in place, have a validated business model and an established customer base that’s generating substantive revenue.
  • Innovation expansion awards up to $500,000 to encourage expansion of product lines in companies that have a complete management infrastructure, a demonstrated historical profitability and an established customer base; funding provides assistance for product refinement and market expansion activities for unique, innovative and competitive products.

Partnering with Chamber on “Keep It QC”

TapOnIt worked closely with the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce to start a “Keep It QC” gift card program, which now has amassed $180,000 in card sales and rewards since it began in mid-November.

“In keeping with the premise behind Keep It QC, the Quad Cities Chamber worked with Davenport-based TapOnIt to develop a web-based

Davenport-based TapOnIt Gets $250,000 Iowa Economic Development Award

An example of a TapOnIt deal for an Eldridge baking company.

platform for gift card sales to keep dollars local,” said Kristin Glass, the chamber’s chief strategy officer.

“The platform enables merchants to list special offers for using the branded card. It also allows individuals and businesses to purchase cards for personal use or gifting,” Glass said.

“What I love to do is keep people shopping local; it’s 100 percent what drives our economy,” Wilson said this fall. “We’re huge fans of this ‘Keep It QC’ program.”

“This holiday season, more than ever, with the way the year has been going — our local businesses are struggling,” she said. “Many businesses that won’t make it through this. We have to shift our mindset a little bit away from the ease of online shopping to shopping local. It makes all the difference.”

The gift cards are available for purchase for use at any Q-C merchant that accepts Visa cards – such as retailers, restaurants, salons, spas, boutiques, sports and entertainment, hotels, and more.

Davenport-based TapOnIt Gets $250,000 Iowa Economic Development Award

TapOnIt designed and built the technology for the “Keep It QC” gift card program.

Consumers can purchase the Keep It QC Visa Gift Card for self-use or gift to another recipient via https://thecommunitygiftcard.com/keepitqc. You can order a card in the amounts of $25, $50, $75, $100 or more, and a list of participating businesses is on the site, which are eligible to offer special discounts to cardholders.

After purchasing on the site, buyers or their gift recipient will receive a physical card in the mail. Please allow 3-5 business days for processing and 5-10 business days for delivery of the card.

Once activated, gift cards are multi-use (available to use more than once at a specific business) and can be used everywhere around the Quad-Cities where Visa debit cards are accepted — except gas pumps, ATMs, cash access and for recurring payments. They can be used at the merchant’s website, as long as they accept debit card

“We are thrilled with the results with what we consider beta, and excited to take the platform to communities across the country,” Wilson said this week of the gift cards. “The chamber has been fantastic to work with, anxious to help introduce other chambers across the country.”

“The chamber came to us with the idea, with their focus on local, they looked to us as a potential tech provider,” she said. “They put their money where their mouth is.”

Wilson’s company was able to design, lay out, build and launch the technology all within four weeks.

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TapOnIt drives traffic, awareness, and sales to local businesses while making it easy for people to save money and try new things. Advertising is fragmented – but everyone opens their text messages, according to TapOnIt, which says 95% of text messages get read within five minutes of being received.

TapOnIt was launched in 2015 in Bettendorf by two sisters who love helping to grow local businesses while providing people with great deals.

Davenport-based TapOnIt Gets $250,000 Iowa Economic Development Award

The chamber’s “Keep It QC” initiative aims to improve local spending.

“What we do in the simplest of forms is we build databases of people who 100 percent sign-up, opt-in for to receive offers and promotions from local businesses,” Wilson has said.

Once consumers opt into the system, they receive deals from local businesses up to three times a week. Usually the offers are based in food or beverage, but Wilson and Castillo say they have been able to drive direct traffic for most businesses.

TapOnIt used to do more promotions for entertainment and sports events, but 2020 and Covid changed that, Wilson said.

“We used to do a lot with tickets; unfortunately 2020 really screwed that up,” she said. They are working with sidestage.com to promote an online Dec. 26 performance of 13-year-old magician James Chan. That show is at 2 p.m. and costs $25 per person or household.

“We had to pivot, keep ways to keep the business growing,” Wilson said. “This company Side Stage is taking entertainment in a whole new way, and consumers are ready for that. They’re looking for new things to do to stay engaged with their family.”:

“I thought it was really cool, was excited to promote it,” she said. “It’s us trying to find new and creative ways to pull entertainment back into the mix.”

For more information about the business, visit https://taponitdeals.com.

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Davenport-based TapOnIt Gets $250,000 Iowa Economic Development Award
Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.