More than just a credit score
Minority and women-owned small businesses know all too well the challenges of trying to access capital.
Those hurdles have been further heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many people of color and women wondering where they'll find the money to rebuild and reopen their small businesses.
There may be hope on the horizon in the form of a new loan program, the 40/60 loan program, being offered by Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO).
MESO started in 2005 as a grass roots initiative under the umbrella of the Black United Fund of Oregon. Since then, it has expanded its services and coverage area, providing technical assistance and access to capital to more than 3,000 small businesses, with a focus on entrepreneurs of color, women and low-income individuals. The majority of the approximately 600 entrepreneurs MESO works with each year access services from the nonprofit's main office at 4008 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., in Portland. But the organization also has satellite offices in Beaverton and Gresham's Rockwood neighborhood along with providing services in several counties in Oregon and Clark County in Washington state.
The 40/60 program comes on the heels of other work by MESO to help small business impacted by COVID-19 recover. The nonprofit, for example, recently worked with Washington County and the city of Tigard to create and implement emergency relief programs for home-based and storefront small businesses, with a focus on making sure grants and loans went to underserved enterprises where the money would do the most good.
MESO's new 40/60 loan program is designed to provide underserved small businesses with access to "patient" loans with highly flexible terms that address the need for capital while also minimizing the future debt burdens. The loans, for example, will require monthly payments of $10 in the first six months, followed by an 18-month, interest-only period with a reduced interest rate.
In addition, up to 40% of the loan amount will be forgiven during the first four years, with 10% forgiveness per year if the borrower meets certain conditions such as a history of consistent loan payments and proven business growth. Program participants will find the support they need to stay on track with payments through involvement in MESO's one-to-one, customized technical assistance programs in areas such as marketing, business plan creation and business accounting.
Funding for the 40/60 loan program is being provided by several government agencies, foundations and donors. MESO is geared to offer the service to small businesses throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington.
In order to qualify for the program, business owners must meet certain income requirements, have been in business for at least six months and have been unable to access credit at reasonable terms.
The new loan program is just one more way MESO is making good on its mission to support microenterprises and small businesses owned by people of color, women and low-income individuals, according to Nita Shah, MESO's executive director.
"The people we serve are usually left out from accessing affordable financing products," Shah said.
Ana Chaud, founder of Garden Bar and a former MESO client who now serves on the nonprofit's Board of Directors, sees the new 40/60 loan program as providing entrepreneurs and small business owners with more than just access to capital. She believes the program can provide the incentives needed to help them develop solid business practices while also building their credit.
"Having the criteria in place to grant forgiveness is so clever because it will give the (entrepreneur or small business owner) an achievable goal and huge sense of purpose and accomplishment," Chaud said. "What I love about it is the understanding of human motivation and how we perform if given the right goals."
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