Many small business owners struggle to find the money to grow their business, boost pay for their employees and become an even bigger asset to their community. Many even struggle to pay their bills each month, living in an endless paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. There’s a California-based organization called Opportunity Fund who’s mission is to invest in those without adequate financial resources in order to better their lives.
After all, small business is the lifeblood of many American communities. Caitlin McShane, marketing and communications director, spoke to RewardExpert about the organization. “Opportunity Fund was created to expand financial access and services where the markets themselves weren’t reaching all levels of people in our economy,” said McShane.
Opportunity, Dignity and Responsibility
Opportunity Fund was founded 24 years ago on three core values: opportunity, dignity and responsibility. According to McShane, opportunity is about making sure the business owners who have the results also have the resources. “They’re already doing the hard work. We believe that providing the hand up not the hand out will help someone transform their own life,” she said.
Responsibility is about recognizing that Opportunity Fund is a financial services company, not a charity, and that the organization needs to be a responsible steward of funds. “We’re taking investments and donations that drive the work that we do, so we need to be responsible stewards of those dollars in terms of how efficient we’re deploying them and how transparent we are to our investors and our funders,” McShane said.
The final core value is dignity, which involves respecting clients and their business acumen. “It’s providing the little amount of money and advice they need along the way, but getting out of their way because these are entrepreneurs they know what they’re doing,” she stated.
From Micro to Macro
As stated on its website, Opportunity Fund’s goal is to provide working capital for working people in order to drive economic mobility and reduce income inequality. One of the main ways it does this is through microloans, which are provided to low-income small business owners who are unable to access funds using traditional routes.
“Opportunity Fund is the right fit for someone who can’t quality for funding from a bank,” said McShane. Typical loans range from $2,600 to $250,000, with a median loan size of roughly $30,000.
Funds are provided through Opportunity Fund’s network of donors and investors. About 88 percent go to minority-owned businesses and about 29 percent go to women-owned businesses. Opportunity Fund lends to a diverse group of industries, including restaurants, landscape companies and even food trucks. “We’re the largest independent financer of food trucks in the country,” McShane pointed out.
A Different Qualification Process
The loan qualification process is a bit different for business owners interested in an Opportunity Fund loan. While credit, collateral, cash flow and character (the 4 c’s) still apply, Opportunity Fund is more willing to accept people with lower credit scores.
“Not everyone has a credit card in hand. We look at other areas such as the history and character of business owners and get to know them. The human touch is important,” stated McShane, who points out that the company has a strong repayment rate of 95 percent. “And that 95 percent of Opportunity Fund businesses are surviving—much greater than the overall small business survival rate,” she added.
Save Money, Too
Besides lending, the company also offers a savings account known as a microsavings. It helps low-income Americans save for things like college or a rainy day fund. Donors will match the amounts that program participants set aside. As stated on its website, Opportunity Fund believes that saving money and financial education are the foundation for financial stability.
Big Plans for the Future
In conjunction with helping its clients grow their business, Opportunity Fund has been growing itself. The organization has expanded beyond its native California and is now in 12 states. “It’s really exciting for us to be able to take our model that we’ve proven here in California and scale it with a nationwide approach,” said McShane.
It also recently struck a partnership with LendingClub. “Through this partnership, we’re helping to expand access to affordable capital to folks who are looking for funding online on one of the largest software platforms built for that purpose,” explained McShane.
Small Business Remains Key
As technology changes, the importance of small business as a driver of job creation and income growth has not changed. As McShane points out, business ownership is integral to the promise of opportunity in America, and for that reason Opportunity Fund has lent more than $229 million to small business owners since its inception. To learn more about an Opportunity Fund loan, visit opportunityfund.org.