STEP – How to apply

How to apply

A. STEP ND Application

Take the following steps when applying for STEP ND program funds:

  1. Determine if your company meets the SBA “eligible small business concern” guidelines.

    If you have questions, please visit

  2. Gather Materials

    Before beginning your application, collect the following:
    • Six Digit NAICS Code

      Used to identify the applicant’s business industry. The code helps determine if the applicant meets the SBA definition of a small business. To find your NAICS code, visit

    • ND Secretary of State Registration

      Verify with the North Dakota Secretary of State that your company is registered and in good standing. This information can be found at

    • Majority Owner information

      Identify all the categories that relate to the majority owner for reporting purposes.

    • Sales Figures

      Confirm total sales and gross export sales for the previous fiscal/calendar year.

    • Number of employees in ND

    • Export markets and volume percentages

      Identify your company’s export countries/markets and the corresponding export sales volume

  3. Complete Application

    The STEP ND application is available beginning September 30, 2022 and can be found at

    Companies need to complete only one Company Application per grant period, but must complete a separate Activity Application for each event they are requesting funds. The application process includes the following:

    • Company Application

      Requires basic company, contact, industry and financial information.

    • Certification Statements

      1. SBA’s eligible small business certification
      2. SBA’s debarment certification
      3. Applicant’s Certification
      4. IRS W-9 tax form

      All statements must be signed and dated by the applicant.

  4. Email or Mail Supporting Application Materials

    After completing the application, send the following items to:

    STEP ND Program North Dakota Trade Office 4844 Rocking Horse Circle South, Suite 1 Fargo, North Dakota 58104

    or email them to

B. STEP ND Approval Process

Applications are reviewed based on the program guidelines and if accepted, approval is given based on the quality of the application and the overall funding available.

  1. Allocation

    The North Dakota Trade Office allocates funds to approved companies on a rolling basis. As applications come in, they are assessed with program fit and funding availability. Once all funding is allocated, the application process is over (unless allocated funds are under-utilized by awarded companies and turned back to NDTO). Allocations are determined based on a variety of factors:

    • Amount of total funding available
    • Grant requirements 
    • Quality of a company’s application including expected increases in export sales and/or retained or new jobs
    • Number of activities and previous funding allocations to company
    • Markets to be entered

    Applicants may receive less than the full amount requested. NDTO reserves the right to accept or reject any application, or to limit allocations to any applicant. First time applicants may be limited in the number of accepted applications within the first quarter of the program.

  2. Review Committee

    All applications meeting the eligibility requirements will be reviewed by NDTO staff. If there are applications that require further analysis, NDTO reserves the right to share those applications with STEP ND partners to seek their input and arrive at a decision. NDTO’s decision is final.

  3. Approval Date

    NDTO seeks to make a decision on each application within one-to-two weeks of receipt of a completed application. If an application requires additional analysis, site visit, interviews, etc., this time frame may be extended. A notice of approval or disapproval will be emailed to the applicant.

  4. Activity Start Date

    If an approved activity/project is not started within sixty (60) days of the approval date, it will be deemed to have been withdrawn by the applicant. The applicant may have this time frame extended upon written notice from NDTO or make a new application for the activity.

C. Amendments and Additional Funding Requests

Participating companies may need to make changes to their plans after the activity/project has been approved. Changes to existing approvals are accomplished through amendments. Amendments can be made anytime during the program year. Contact NDTO in advance with any questions. Amendments can be used to change/add the following:

  • Countries or markets
  • Funding – approval is based on the availability of funds
  • Dates

Companies wishing to change the activity/project type must resubmit an Activity Application to NDTO as a new activity.

D. Activities Checklist

This checklist will help you before, during, and after the activity.

  1. Pre-Approval

    Verify that the activity, promoted product(s), and country are listed on the approved application.

  2. Timing

    Activities must occur after the  Company Application and Activity Date are submitted to NDTO.

  3. Ensure Activity Eligibility

    Before commencing any activity, verify that the activity is eligible.

  4. Proof of Payment

    A confirmation of payment is required, shown in US dollars. Reimbursement is based on your payment, so we must have the proper documentation. The acceptable forms of payment include:

    • Cash Receipt

      For cash expenses less than $1,000, a signed receipt which must be marked “paid” and show a zero balance. For cash expenses exceeding $1,000, a letter from the vendor stating the invoice has been paid in full.

    • Check

      A cleared, bank-encoded, canceled version of the check or a copy of the front and back of the check accompanied by a copy of the bank statement showing the check withdrawal as a line item or posted.

    • Credit Card Statement

      A credit card statement showing the name of the participating company, the vendor, and the charge as a line item are required. We do not need to see proof of payment to the credit card company.

    • Wire Transfer Confirmation

      We must see the wire transfer confirmation or the bank statement showing the posted transaction. The request alone is not sufficient.

    • Credit/Debit Memo

      A copy of the credit/debit memo, a copy of the account statement or product invoice showing the deduction taken, and copies of invoices for products shipped to the vendor and the corresponding credit memo that equals or exceeds the amount of the credit/debit memo.

  5. Proof of Activity

    Provide proof of your activity. Because this varies by activity, please see the activity details under Reimbursement Requirements.

E. Travel

Companies will only be reimbursed for travel to exhibit at international trade shows, domestic trade shows, foreign market sales trips or to participate in approved trade missions. If you are traveling on a trade mission, please contact NDTO to verify eligibility under the Program. Please note: Travel expenses are eligible for a maximum of two US based company employees. Travel expenses are not eligible for importers/distributors, consultants, interns, or interpreters. This checklist will help you before, during, and after your trip.

  1. Before Trip – Make Travel Preparations
    • All STEP ND Trade Trip Applications must be submitted before the trip commences.
    • Purchase Airline Tickets with Care
      • Comply with the Fly America Act:

        Travelers must fly on a US carrier in and out of the United States. Travel outside of the US, within other countries, may be on a foreign carrier. If it is a “codeshare” flight, the 2-letter code for the U.S partner airline must show on the ticket. The Fly America Act Waiver Checklist is required when the use of a foreign carrier is necessary.

        For more details on the Fly America Act, please click here.
      • Buy Full Fare Coach/Economy Class Tickets:

        Travelers will be reimbursed at the cost of a full fare coach/economy class ticket. Business or First Class travelers must submit a written quote of the coach/economy class fare for the same destination and dates of travel, obtained on the same date, for consideration.

      • Choose Direct Flights to and from the Destination:

        Fly directly to and from the approved destination. If you fly to other destinations or extend your trip, you must submit a written quote of the coach/economy class fare directly to and from the approved destination. Be sure to obtain a quote at the time you are booking your airfare. Quotes done after the trip takes place are not eligible. Written quote must come from a website (printed with URL address and showing/ or from a travel agent).

  2. During Trip – Collect Documentation

    • Airfare Passenger Receipt or E-ticket Receipt

      Keep the Passenger Receipt or E-ticket Receipt, which shows the ticket number, the complete routing codes including layover and flight segments, and the fare amount charged (i.e., point-to-point faring). In addition to the Passenger Receipt, you must provide a printed itinerary.

    • Lodging

      You will be reimbursed for no more than the US government per diem rate listed at for foreign rates or for domestic rates. If your destination city is not listed, please choose “Other” to determine the per diem rate. Obtain a detailed copy of the hotel statement showing the occupant’s name, arrival/departure dates, daily room rate, and total charges (indicating a zero balance). If the hotel statement is in a foreign language, it must be translated into English. If the hotel was reserved and prepaid online or through a travel agent, you must obtain a receipt from the hotel showing the occupant’s name and arrival/departure dates to confirm the reservation was kept. Lodging statements must be in US dollars or converted into US dollars. Foreign currency charges shown on credit card statements are not eligible for reimbursement.

    • Trade Show Booth

      Take a photo of the trade show booth during the show, including:

      • Brand name products on display
      • Show signage
      • Employees working at the booth

      Also, submit a copy of your company’s listing in the trade show guide, if possible.

F. Reimbursement Requirements

Email of the completed Request for Reimbursement and supporting documentation to NDTO. All reimbursement claims should be submitted to NDTO within 30 days of the completion of the promotional activity. You must provide NDTO with supporting documentation for each reimbursement claim. All reimbursements require the submission of three items:

  • An invoice
  • Proof of payment (copies only)
  • Proof of activity – If a picture or printed material is being submitted as proof of activity, only one of each item is needed per reimbursement request.

Keep copies of all reimbursement request materials, including original copies of vendor invoices. Upon review, NDTO may request original documentation. Please note: You are required to maintain your STEP ND files for a minimum of 3 years following the end of the program year. Files are subject to audit by the SBA. Once your reimbursement claim has been reviewed and you have been notified of any additional documentation that is needed, you have 15 days to provide the documents or your reimbursement claim may be denied.

G. General Requirements for Reimbursement

All invoices submitted for reimbursement must contain detailed information in English or translated into English:

  • Dates of expenses must be readable
  • Name and contact information of vendor
  • All itemized charges (summary invoices are ineligible)

Invoices must either be in English or be accompanied by an English translation. For foreign currency exchange rate conversions, please use, and put in the date or date range).

H. Specific Requirements by Activity

The activities listed below require specific documentation in order to qualify for reimbursement.

  1. Printed Sales Materials

    Please provide a sample of the materials. A legible photo may be submitted for items that are larger than an 11” x 8 ½” sheet of paper.

  2. Trade Shows

    Please provide a photo of the booth taken during the show with the products on display, or the listing in the show exhibitor’s guide and a copy of the cover of the guide.

  3. Trade Missions

    Proof of participation in the trade mission may include a photo of the traveling group in a destination country.

  4. Translations

    Please provide samples of the original item in English and the translated item. A legible photo may be submitted for items that are larger than an 11” x 8 ½” sheet of paper.

  5. Ground Transportation

    Please provide copies of the receipts.

  6. Airfare

    • Passenger Receipt or E-ticket Receipt indicating direct flight(s) on US carrier to and from the approved destination with full fare coach/economy class tickets
    • Flight itinerary listing each leg of the flight, flight numbers, airports, dates, and times. Please note: US carrier airline codes flight numbers are required for flights departing from and arriving in the United States
    • If applicable, a quote for a full fare coach/economy class ticket on a US carrier to and from the approved destination
  7. Lodging

    Hotel statement or receipt showing occupant’s name, arrival/departure dates, daily room rate, total charges and a zero balance. If the statement is in a foreign language, an English translation must be provided

  8. Prepaid Lodging

    Detailed invoice from the travel agent or web site listing the nightly room rate and a statement from the hotel detailing the occupant’s name and the arrival/departure dates

  9. US Commercial Services Subscriptions

    A receipt of the subscriptions/services provided by the US Commercial Services will be required that detail what services were performed for the applicant. NDTO may be able to pay USCS on behalf of the company in some situations.

  10. ExporTech

    A receipt and proof of payment is required

  11. RAISE Program

    An invoice and proof of payment is required

  12. Activity Results

    Participants in STEP ND are required to submit quarterly export sales and jobs data information and survey requests to NDTO that resulted from the approved activity through September 30, 2022. These results include dealer/distributor signed agreements.