Successfully Accessing Water Infrastructure Funding Programs: Advice from Two Former Loan Officers

Federal, state, and territorial programs exist to help small water systems pay for critical infrastructure rehabilitation and replacement, including the state revolving fund, USDA, and CDBG. This webinar will share advice from two of RCAP’s technical assistance providers who previously worked as infrastructure loan officers on how to be successful in accessing these important programs. The material in this webinar is best suited for individuals who are involved in the financial management of water systems.

Presenters will include:

• Tom Finger, Technical Assistance Provider, Midwest Assistance Program

• Gaylene Riley, Community Environmental Management Specialist, Communities Unlimited

• Glenn Barnes, Financial and Managerial Capacity Building Specialist, RCAP

A certificate of attendance will be issued to webinar participants for 1 hour of instruction (generated for active participation via GoToWebinar).


Academic Warriors

Academic Warriors

by Allison Bruning

Allison Bruning
Allison Bruning

My name is Allison Bruning. I am Appalachian Scot-Irish and German from Marion, Ohio. I am also a second-generation American on my dad’s side. His parents were immigrants from Germany at the turn of the 20th century. My dad was a deep-sea diver in the Navy during World War II and Korea. He dove for Jacques Cousteau and was a stunt diver on the Old Sea Hunt series as well as an oil rig diver in the Gulf of Mexico. My grandmother’s side of the family is from West Virginia. Her grandmother was one of the first female RNs in West Virginia. My mother’s father’s side of the family was Scottish, who fought in the American Revolutionary War and were given land in Ohio after the war as part of their pension. We are descended from one of the first families to settle in Central Ohio!

My mom and I moved to Texas when I was sixteen while I was a foreign exchange student in Costa Rica. I went to college at Sul Ross State University, where I trained to become an archaeologist. To this day, I have been on five archaeological digs and one paleontological dig.  I specialize in geology and Native American studies. I hold a BA in Theatre Arts directing stage, screen, and television and a minor in Archeology. I was working on my master’s in history in Native American studies when I met my husband. We were married in 2001. He is truly the reason that I am the teacher that I am today. He saw me teaching a Sunday School class then asked me, “Why are you an archeologist? You’re such a great teacher. That’s what you should be doing, teaching!” A few years later, I left my studies and went back to school at Sul Ross State University to get a teaching certificate and my master’s of education as a Reading Specialist. I had thought of opening my own clinic so I could help special needs students. I became a certified teacher but was unable to complete my MEd because my husband and I had moved to Louisville, Kentucky. It was there I started my writing career. Today I am a bestselling author with three novels, ten short stories, a children’s book, and a poetry book. It was also in Kentucky that I had decided to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. I graduated with my degree in the fall of 2013. I thought I would stop there. I couldn’t transfer my teaching certificate from Texas to Kentucky. Still, I could teach writing at the college level with an MFA. So I had applied at several places. I eventually landed a teaching job at a university in Indianapolis, Indiana. We moved there, but I really missed teaching children.

My best friend at the time had convinced me to go to get my Ph.D. in Education. I had loved that idea because after working so long in education in the public and private sectors, I realized that special needs students just aren’t getting the right services because general education teachers aren’t taught how to personalize the teaching methods that would help them. I’m autistic, gifted (IQ is 140), and I have dyscalculia (math learning disability). Not a single teacher ever had addressed my autism nor my high IQ, only my learning disability when I was in school. I soon learned from other people I spoke with that I wasn’t alone. So I decided to do something about it. I was going to get my Ph.D. in Special Education and change the system from the inside. I started my research for my dissertation. My topic was autism identification and education within the school system. I learned that half of the autistic population commit suicide before they are 18 because they don’t have the necessary support system to help them become adults. Half of the remaining half are incarcerated, do drugs, alcohol, or engage in risky behavior in their 20’s. And the older the population grows, the more we lose them. I couldn’t believe my results, so I showed my husband, who had been a correctional nurse in Texas and Kentucky. He said he had encountered it every day he worked within the units. I was so upset that I told my husband we couldn’t let this continue! So I quit my Ph.D. studies and opened Academic Warriors in 2015. We started the school in Marfa, Texas. We didn’t have any business loan to help us out. We decided to full-time RV so we could meet with parents from all over the United States and let them know about our school.

Academic Warriors offers personalized online classes that are delivered live via Zoom. We have been using Zoom for five years. We don’t just offer online classes, though. One of the main problems I found when I started my writing career was that even though I had had wonderful writing classes throughout my education, they never truly prepared me for a writing career. Many publishers have to teach writers what a writing career is really like. There are publishers who take advantage of new writers. I believe students who want a career should have the necessary skills for that job. So I opened my own publishing house, placed it underneath the school, and developed a Young Authors program. Our Young Authors Program teaches students how to properly write short stories, novels, and children’s books. Then we publish the students. The students have to work with a real editor, graphic designer, and formatter in our publishing house just like they be would in the real world. I also developed a nonfiction writing program for students who are interested in becoming reporters or researchers. During the summers, we have an Arts in the Parks program where we work with state, local federal parks, museums, zoos, and aquariums to host a writing program that teaches students the creative writing process. The students create short stories then we professionally publish their stories in an anthology. The students can also have writing contracts with us for any other book they want published. You see the program on our website at www.academicwarriors.com.

Allison Bruning and her husband, Delfin Espinosa
Allison Bruning and her husband, Delfin Espinosa

I have basically built our entire company on my own. I am a graphic designer, so I have built a website and social media marketing. I am currently building two more websites for our school. I attended SBA conferences so I could gather the resources I would need to build the school. My husband is on disability because he is legally blind. We have used his funds to help with the school in the beginning. I also taught at Outschool while I was building the company. I told many of the parents I was working with over there that I was going to open Academic Warriors and leave Outschool. They ended up leaving with me. Three years ago, one of my parents in Arizona introduced me to the Arizona ESA (Empowerment Scholarship Account) program. We have been working with that program ever since and have received ESA state funding for many students we have worked with over the years. My husband and I have traveled all over Texas and New Mexico. We are currently in Fort Smith, Arkansas hoping more parents and educators will learn about our company.

My husband, Delfin Espinosa, is Mexican American and Apache Native American from Marfa, Texas. He is a third-generation American and a native of Texas. Delfin was an LPN for twenty years in nursing homes and prisons before he went legally blind due to end-stage glaucoma. He is currently in school to become a health and life coach. My husband is a very positive man who has been a great help to me. He loves helping people.

We are looking forward to expanding our services to include his health and life coaching.

We are very grateful for the opportunity to have the PPP. We had applied when the first and second rounds of PPP had opened but were told we didn’t meet the requirements. I was so upset because our school had been adversely affected by COVID. 2020 was such a weird year for our school. So many parents had been suffering financially that we offered discounts to many of our parents in order to keep their children within our student population. Our teachers were affected as well. When schools didn’t open in August, we had gained many students. We had been doing well until November and December. Many parents started to have financial issues, or some of the schools decided to reopen. So many of our new students left our school. That left a financial burden upon us that had made it difficult to pay our teachers. I also had encountered some health issues that had left me in the ER three times, an ambulance twice, and several visits to different specialists. Our finances were so bad that I had no choice but to let all of our teachers go. It was a really hard time for my husband and me. I had even wondered if I was going to have to close the school. I didn’t want to do that. Thankfully, Tamara at the SBA had emailed me on March 1st to let me know that Congress had changed the PPP requirements and that I might be qualify. I was overjoyed! She told me about your organization. I couldn’t get to the paperwork until last week because my schedule is swamped with students. Last week was Spring Break, so I had the time to fill out the paperwork. I was over the moon excited when you told me that I had qualified and was approved! The funds are going to allow me the opportunity to pay the teachers I couldn’t pay, replace the computer with one I need more for our business, and help with operating expenses.

ACADEMIC WARRIORS IS GOING TO LIVE!

Follow Academic Warriors on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or browse more of Allison’s written works on Amazon.


SOAR: Southern Opportunity And Resiliency Fund

Communities Unlimited has been chosen as 1 of 13 CDFIs to originate loans as part of the Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund.

The Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund aims to support the recovery of small businesses and nonprofits with access to flexible, affordable capital and free business support services across 15 southern states

March 3, 2021 – A diverse group of community finance organizations today announced the Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund, which aims to raise $150 million to provide affordable capital and free business support to small businesses and nonprofits in 15 southern and southeastern states to help them navigate and rebuild from the Covid-19 health and economic crisis.

The SOAR Fund was created by community lenders in the South to provide economic recovery loans to small businesses in their communities at a time when they are facing unprecedented health and economic challenges. The loans are designed to reach the smallest of small businesses and those that have been historically underbanked – the type of businesses that this coalition of lenders have been serving for decades. These businesses often struggle to access capital from traditional sources but are critical to providing jobs and supporting economic recovery in communities across the South.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already uneven recovery from the Great Recession. Southern states had slower economic growth, lower labor force participation, and higher unemployment than the rest of the country, partially driven by the historic lack of corporate and philanthropic investment in the region,” said George Ashton, managing director at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which manages the Fund. “The SOAR Fund, with support from leading banks, foundations, and corporations, will tackle these issues head-on by addressing structural barriers to economic opportunity by providing capital to Southern small businesses and nonprofits that need it now.”

The portal for small businesses is scheduled to open in April and will offer flexible, affordable loans of up to $100,000 to small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 50 full-time employees. The Fund replicates similar models that have succeeded in New York and California by working with and through local Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs).

All interested small business owners and nonprofits can review program eligibility, product terms, and indicate interest at www.TheSoarFund.org, which will notify business owners once the application portal is live. Once the application portal launches, eligible applicants will be matched with a participating lender that will assist the business owner with the application and provide advisory support.

Catalytic initial grants and loans are being provided by Capital One, Microsoft, the F.B. Heron Foundation, Fidelity Charitable with support from CapShift, the Heifer Foundation, Mercy Investment Services, Woodforest National Bank, Ceniarth, and the Jacksonville, Florida-based Chartrand Family.

“By investing in the Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund, we are enabling recovery and economic stability to historically under-served businesses and communities through a robust network of CDFI partners to deliver targeted business support services,” said Theresa Bedeau, Community Impact & Investment at Capital One. “Capital One is proud to support SOAR as its entrepreneurs build their businesses and nonprofits, establish financial well-being and secure their futures.”

“We’re pleased to partner and invest in the Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund with the goal to increase access to capital and support for underserved community businesses and nonprofits,” said Tahreem Kampton, Corporate Treasurer at Microsoft. “Microsoft is committed to addressing racial injustice in our society, ecosystems, and communities. Many small businesses across the country and in our southern and southeastern states have struggled economically due to Covid-19. We are glad to support this collaborative effort to help provide opportunities in communities that have been historically underserved.”

Thirteen CDFIs will originate loans purchased by the Fund, including Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE), Accion Opportunity Fund, Ascendus, BCL of Texas, Black Business Investment Fund, Communities Unlimited, LiftFund, NCIFund, NDC’s Community Investment Loan Fund, Pathway Lending, People Fund, Southern Bancorp Community Partners, and TruFund Financial Services. As a collaborative, these lenders have full reach across the region, have served on the front lines of the economic crisis and have decades of experience providing high-touch lending and advisory services to small businesses and nonprofit organizations. The CDFIs will be supported by leading technical assistance and business support organizations including Winrock International, LISC’s local offices and national rural program, and Small Business Majority, which will help with outreach, education, and hands-on business advisory services. Calvert Impact Capital is arranging and LISC Fund Management is managing the Fund.

“TruFund is proud to be a member of the SOAR Fund Partnership,” said James H. Bason, President and CEO of TruFund Financial Services, a participating CDFI. “We are committed to rebuilding a stronger more resilient small business ecosystem particularly in communities that have suffered from the lack of access to affordable capital and whose vulnerabilities are now exacerbated by COVID-19 and the related economic impact.”

“Small businesses are not only essential to the fabric of our communities — creating jobs, providing valuable services and powering local economies — but they are also essential to the entrepreneurs who start them and the people they employ, in this case people who are historically underserved and adversely affected by the pandemic. It is imperative, then, that we help small businesses adapt, reopen safely and rebuild,” said Patricia McCall, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Global Strategy at Winrock International. “SOAR offers potential business partners and donors an opportunity to join in this important mission.”

“We encourage all small business owners and nonprofits who need support to visit the website, learn about the Fund and sign up so you’re pre-registered once we launch the program,” said Patrick Davis, Vice President of Strategy at Community Reinvestment Fund, USA (CRF).

When the Fund opens, CRF’s Connect2Capital platform will allow applicants to sign up online and get matched to a lender in less than five minutes.

The SOAR Fund covers: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

For more information, visit www.TheSoarFund.org.

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About the SOAR Fund

The Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund (SOAR) provides access to flexible, affordable capital and free business support services to small businesses and nonprofits through trusted community-based organizations. These organizations have decades of experience supporting historically under-resourced small businesses, including those in low-income and rural communities and owned by women and people of color.

SOAR is a collaborative partnership of local and national community finance organizations created to address the needs of historically disenfranchised communities as they navigate and rebuild from the COVID-19 crisis. SOAR includes leaders from across sectors including local community lenders, national and state-based nonprofit organizations, corporations, philanthropic donors, and investors – all who are passionate about an equitable recovery across the region.


PPP - What You Need to Know and How to Apply

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is an SBA loan program that can be fully forgivable. Find out if you're eligible and how to apply through Communities Unlimited for the loan that turns into a grant. A lender will be available to answer any questions.

*Registration closes 48 hours before the training event.


Part-Time Gamers Grabs Golden Opportunity Thanks to Reboot Loan

Part-Time Gamers Grabs Golden Opportunity Thanks to Reboot Loan

“All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation.”  

Those are the words of author and business strategist Max McKeown, and those words have never been more true than during a pandemic. 

The COVID-19 pandemic that spread across the United States in 2020 forced many businesses to adapt in order to survive. That especially held true for small businesses, which were among the hardest hit. For some, surviving the pandemic meant putting expansion on hold, and altering the vision for the business’s future.  

Such was the case for Christopher Lewis, owner of Part Time Gamers. Christopher turned a few game sales from his personal collection into a gaming retail store that he ran from his home. The business became official in April 2020, selling games for a variety of console systems.  

He began selling in stores on eBay and Amazon, but he soon created his own website, www.parttimegamersstore.com. Christopher started by selling from his vast personal collection, then he purchased more inventory to sell.  

Within months, he had more than $14,000 in sales.  

“I think that’s pretty good for a one-person operation,” he said.  

Soon, Christopher had another goal. He wanted to move into a brick-and-mortar location. The question was, would it be the right timing and the right decision for his business?  

About the same time, the announcement came for new game consoles that would arrive in time for holiday shopping. For Part Time Gamers to sell the latest consoles at a good profit margin, he would need financial assistance to purchase the consoles in bulk to get a better discount 

With multiple choices available, Christopher needed assistance to determine the best path for the future of his business. He turned to Communities Unlimited.  

Christopher was referred to Communities Unlimited by Higher Purpose, a Mississippi-based nonprofit that connects small businesses with a variety of resources.  

Christopher consulted with the Lending team at Communities Unlimited and was able to create financial projections for the building purchase and for the console purchases. He applied for a Microloan to assist with the building acquisition and a Reboot Loan to purchase inventory. 

After reviewing his financial projections with Lending Associate Kevin Tillman, it was determined that purchasing the building at that time wouldn’t be best for his business. With the COVID-19 crisis in full swing, bringing customers in to a new physical location would be impossible, because all non-essential locations in his area had been forced to close 

Instead, Christopher decided to concentrate on building his business from home and getting on more solid financial ground before moving to a physical location. 

He decided to work solely to apply for the Reboot Loan, one of the products introduced by Communities Unlimited in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The loan is designed to assist small businesses and entrepreneurs who want to introduce a new product or service in response to COVID-19. 

Just 20 days after his application was submitted, Christopher was awarded a $10,000 Reboot Loan to purchase the consoles and other inventory in time for the Christmas shopping rush.  

“That Reboot Loan was perfect for that purpose of gathering the inventory and the products I needed to get them out there,” he said.  

He was able to purchase several of the latest consoles in bulk at discounted prices, which meant a better profit margin for him. He also set aside some of the money for the latest PlayStation and Xbox systems expected to be released in November. Those systems are expected to top the list of big-ticket, hot items for Christmas sales.  

Christopher said the Reboot Loan was the perfect solution for his business and an easy process, thanks in part to Kevin’s guidance.  

“It was a very smooth experience. I enjoyed it. Kevin guided me through the process from start to finish,” Christopher said. 

Thanks to a loan and financial assistance from Communities Unlimited, Christopher is now able to offer what is expected to be a hot-ticket item to customers looking for entertainment while staying safely at home.  


Airport City Executive Center & Catering in the heart of Memphis

Airport City Executive Center & Catering in the heart of Memphis

Moving an existing business and starting a new business venture can be difficult tasks on their own. Doing both at the same time can be even more difficult. Doing both during a worldwide pandemic can present a myriad of challenges.  

One Memphis business owner found a way to rise to those challenges with assistance from Communities Unlimited.  

Elise Paulette Sanford opened the Airport City Executive Center & Catering in the heart of MemphisThe business focused mainly on providing delicious, healthy foods for special events and catering. 

She started the business in a building with another tenant, but over time, the location and shared space didn’t meet her business’ needs. Paulette decided to move her business to a new location. 

Unfortunately, it was right about that time the COVID-19 epidemic took hold in the United States. Businesses were forced to close their doors and plans were put on hold or left up in the air.  

Still, Paulette needed to complete her move, but she was going to need assistance in getting the move done in such a turbulent time.  

Paulette had previously worked with Communities Unlimited when she owned a former business and felt she needed the one-on-one assistance that they provided, so she turned to them once again.   

Paulette started by placing a phone call to Cynthia Terry, Director of Entrepreneurship for Communities Unlimited. She looked to Cynthia for guidance in the move and in adapting to the demands created by the COVID-19 crisis. Paulette planned to introduce a new business venture — creating box lunches to sell to nearby warehouse workers and those at other businesses that remained open. She planned to call the new product “Paulette’s Meals to Go.”  

Cynthia set up a meeting for her and Paulette to meet with Communities Unlimited’s lending director, Deborah Temple, and the three decided that prior to applying for a loan, Communities Unlimited would help her think through her business model and develop financial projections to confirm the feasibility of her idea. One of Communities Unlimited’s management consultants, Marnell Love, worked one-on-one with Paulette to do just that.  

Shortly thereafter, Paulette began working with Lending Associate Kevin Tillman on a Pivot Loan for her new business venture. The Pivot Loan is one of the new Recovery Loan products offered by Communities Unlimited in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The Pivot Loan provides small businesses with funds to introduce new products or services in response to the pandemic. The Reboot Loan provides funds to small businesses looking to reopen or stay open during the crisis. 

Kevin visited her business in Memphis before the COVID-19 crisis hit. Kevin saw Paulette’s idea of pre-made, deliverable meals as an ideal product in response to the pandemic.  

Paulette was able to relocate her business to a property along Commercial Parkway, one of the main hubs in Memphis. The new location provided an option for future purchase, as well as additional space she could sublease to others needing small offices downtown.  

Paulette was able to get her new business venture going and continue her previous services in her new location thanks to the Pivot Loan. As the new venture took off, Elise saw yet another opportunity — offering her prepared meals for curbside service as well as delivery.  

Thanks to Communities Unlimited, Paulette is serving healthy meals to clients and customers throughout the Memphis area.  


Find the Perfect Balance

Find the Perfect Balance

While many businesses struggled to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, one Arkansas business actually saw an increase in clients. But that increase, and the pandemic, led to a different set of problems for the business. 

Heather Sanders started Perfect Balance LLC financial services in 2018 in North Little Rock, Arkansas, on a part-time basis. By August 2019, she moved to the business full time. The business aims to assist small businesses and organizations with their finances. Heather provided one-on-one consulting to clients to guide them on their finances. Perfect Balance offers bookkeeping services, accounting consultation and training and hotel accounting services. Her meetings with her clients were often face to face. 

But in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading across the country, and personal consultations had to cease for safety reasons.  

 But as the pandemic took hold, Heather’s business saw an uptick in demand as businesses struggled to survive significant revenue drop because of customers staying home for safety reasons or closures enacted by local or state governments. She also began helping small business owners apply for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan for COVID-19 relief. The demand became increasingly difficult for the business. 

Heather needed a way to continue working with clients without endangering herself, her staff or her clients. She came up with a few ideas, but she would need some financial assistance to complete her plans. 

Heather found what she needed with Communities Unlimited. 

Adapting Amid a Crisis 

Heather devised several changes to her business to respond to the new restrictions implemented during the COVID-19 crisis. She came up with a plan to implement a new secure online virtual meeting space, turning the one-on-one meetings with clients into virtual ones. She would need more equipment to get her new business protocols up to full speed. She also decided she needed to hire a part-time staff member to help with day-to-day operations as clients poured in needing assistance to weather the pandemic and the many closures it created. 

Heather began working with Lending Associate Kevin Tillman to determine the best loan for her plans. Kevin helped her determine that a Pivot Loan would work best for her. 

Heather applied for a Pivot Loan, one of the Recovery Loan products created by Communities Unlimited to assist small businesses through the pandemic. The Pivot Loan is for businesses who want to enact other goods or services to keep their business going during the COVID-19 crisis. The other product, the Reboot Loan, assists businesses who are trying to stay open or are trying to reopen during the pandemic. 

Heather said her experience with Communities Unlimited was easier than expected.  

“It was one of the best experiences that I’ve had because it was my first loan with my business, and as I went through the application, I stopped filling it out at first, because you needed assets. I reached that asset line and just stopped,” she said. 

“Kevin reached out to me and I told him I didn’t have any real assets to add, and he said no, this was difference circumstances, and he encouraged me to finish the process.”  

She did, requesting a Pivot Loan in the amount of $5,000 on May 29, 2020. She received approval of the loan on June 11. The loan would allow her to hire the additional staff member and to implement the virtual meeting space so she could conduct Bookkeeping/Accounting meetings online with her clients.  

“This money allowed me to create a way to send things to my clients electronically,” she said. “It also helped me expand my services that I offered. I also did some marketing and bought more equipment.” 

While most clients receiving Pivot Loans used the funds to try to stay afloat, Heather needed the funding to meet an increased demand.  

Using the Pivot Loan, Heather was able to add the staff necessary to assist local businesses through the pandemic. She also was able to move her meetings online and keep both her staff and her clients safe.  

“It was the easiest process I’ve been through, and the most beneficial process, as well,” she said.  

“I would encourage small businesses that need to expand and want to grow and aren’t really sure what the next step is…that [Communities Unlimited] is a great resource,” Heather said. “I would encourage them to reach out. 


PPP - What You Need to Know and How to Apply

 The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is an SBA loan that can be fully forgivable. Find out if you're eligible and how to apply for the loan that turns into a grant. A lender will be available to answer any questions.


Filmmaker Adds New Service Thanks to CU Pivot Loan

Filmmaker Adds New Service Thanks to CU Pivot Loan

Communities Unlimited has assisted a variety of small businesses throughout the years, from retail shops to restaurants and caterers. Not all small businesses fit into that mold, but they may still need guidance or financial assistance to weather the tough times. Communities Unlimited provides services for those who take a more creative turn in business 

Such was the case of the Gentle Giant Creative Agency, a filmmaking business based in Mississippi that serviced northern Mississippi and nearby Memphis, Tennessee.  

Tyson McClain started the Gentle Giant Creative Agency in January 2019 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The business created content during annual film festivals. Tyson planned to use his experience as a screenwriter and film producer to create content for clients as well as his own original content. 

But as his business got off the ground, Tyson struggled with the overhead costs. A big part of the issue was the equipment Tyson used. Because filmmaking equipment was so expensive, Tyson leased the equipment he used for his business. 

The practice allowed him to complete his film projects, but the rentals cut into any profit he might receive. Even worse, the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading rapidly across the country in Spring 2020, curtailing businesses nationwide.  

Tyson heard about Communities Unlimited and the assistance it provides to small businesses, including offering several loan products.  

He came to Communities Unlimited with a plan. He wanted a loan to purchase his own equipment. That way, not only would he be able to save expenses from leasing equipment from others, but he would be able to lease some of his own equipment to provide additional income. With the pandemic rapidly taking its toll on small businesses, the elimination of his main expense and the addition of a second income stream could keep his business from being one of the estimated 60% of businesses whose closures during the pandemic have become permanent.*  

Tyson applied for a Pivot Loan from Communities Unlimited on Aug. 14, 2020. The Pivot Loan was one of two Recovery Loan products created to assist small businesses through the COVID-19 crisis, the second being the Reboot Loan. The Pivot Loan is for businesses looking to offer additional products or services to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions. The Reboot Loan is for businesses looking to reopen or stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Exactly one week after Tyson applied for a Pivot Loanhe was told that he had received the $5,000 loan. With the money, he was not only able to purchase equipment, but he also was able to cover salaries for five subcontractors.  

Thanks to the purchase, Tyson no longer had to pay to rent equipment, saving money for his business at a time when cutting costs was vital to surviving the pandemic. 

Tyson has already seen success with his production company. The company’s film “Dream” won the “Best Mid-South Film” award for 2020 at the Midsouth Black Film Festival.  

Tyson has since completed other projects, including three of his own. With his new equipment, Tyson will be able to continue his projects and prepare for the forthcoming 2021 film festivals.  


*”Yelp Data Shows 60% of Business Closures Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic Are Now Permanent” https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/16/yelp-data-shows-60percent-of-business-closures-due-to-the-coronavirus-pandemic-are-now-permanent.html 


INVESTING IN ENTREPRENEURS OF COLOR: A PLAYBOOK FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPERS

INVESTING IN ENTREPRENEURS OF COLOR: A PLAYBOOK FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPERS

Communities Unlimited (CU) is a non-profit and CDFI that works to unwind generations of inequity and disinvestment in the rural south. CU primarily serves communities of color in the rural regions of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas— areas with high rates of poverty and food insecurity. Through a wide array of technical assistance and access to capital, CU works to provide entrepreneurs with the tools necessary to start and grow their small businesses. CU offers a parallel of extensive technical assistance specifically targeted at financial management and lending through their CDFI. CU addresses what they see as the three issues that entrepreneurs, specifically entrepreneurs of color face, which are: a lack of access to markets, not enough critical capital at both the startup and growth phases, and management capacity.

Who is this program made to help?

Majority Black-, minority-owned small businesses in seven states in the southern United States, an area with a large number of rural communities, a high minority population, and high rates of poverty and food insecurity.

How is it doing that?

  • Technical Assistance. The majority of Communities Unlimited’s technical assistance is in financial management, with 40 different products, with a focus in financial literacy (i.e. bookkeeping, sales, customer retention, and marketing.) Regardless of the skill being taught, CU works one-on-one to help entrepreneurs learn the skills needed to make their businesses succeed. The average client spends 36 individual hours with a CU team member.
  • Working in parallel with technical assistance. The loan team and the technical assistance team work hand and hand, helping the businesses through the process simultaneously ensuring that the entrepreneur gets what they need, when they need it, whether that is an emergency loan or a cash flow issue. If the loan officer finds a problem, the TA team can help solve it.
  • Right-sizing the loan. With the technical assistance team’s input, CU identifies and typically loans out exactly the amount the business needs at that moment—with the entrepreneur knowing that they can apply for multiple loans down the road according to their needs. In most cases, if a business has enough collateral, they receive the full amount requested from the CDFI. CU purposefully works with the client to ensure they do not receive more than they need. When the business requests their second or third loan, the process is streamlined and can be approved in less than 24 hours because CU already has all of their information.
  • Relationship lending. Instead of only looking at the credit score to decide whether an entrepreneur qualifies for a loan, CU pulls a credit report, and talks with the client about the score and gives the entrepreneur an opportunity to explain their debt, or go on a payment plan, allowing CU to accept their loan application. When CU is unable to give a loan based on SBA guidelines or other regulations, they disclose the reasons to the entrepreneur and, whenever possible, help them address some of the issues, helping them clear the path for a potential loan in the future. As a CDFI, CU always takes collateral, not as a decision factor, but to ensure that the entrepreneur is fully committed in the process.

Contact information

Ines Polonius, Executive Director, Ines.Polonius@CommunitiesU.org