For many business owners and entrepreneurs from disadvantaged communities, the financial foundation and credit requirements needed to get loans to start and expand businesses are hard to come by.
In 2018, JPMorgan Chase provided a $5 million grant as part of its Neighborhood Revitalization initiative to the Fresno-based Central Valley Community Foundation (CVCF). This money was distributed as sub-grants to local Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) and organizations including Access Plus Capital, Community Vision and Opportunity Fund.
Fresno won JPMorgan Chase’s fifth annual Partnerships for Raising Opportunity (PRO) in Neighborhoods competition — part of a $125 million, five-year initiative to identify and support solutions for unique challenges faced in U.S. neighborhoods.
From the three-year grant of $5 million, $2.55 million goes to Access Plus Capital. The organization committed an additional $6 million in available lending capital to support the goals of the project.
The grant was a spark for Access Plus Capital to start a new nano-loan product to disperse loans quickly through a simplified approval process.
Owner & Founder of B.O.K Natural
A chance to succeed
Cherella Nicholson, program officer for CVCF, said targeted zip codes in Fresno were picked because they are seen as “capital deserts”— areas with fewer resources to support the aspirations of residents and potential entrepreneurs.
“There is not a lot of movement — not a lot of infrastructure and buildings going up. But there is a lot of space — old buildings and vacant buildings. Residents are saying ‘hey, we have businesses and ideas here, and if we could just have access to funding…,’” Nicholson said.
Nicholson said CDFIs are able to create loan products larger banks cannot with more forgiving credit score requirements to give people living in targeted areas more opportunities.
The targeted zip codes in Fresno are 93701, 93702, 93706, 93721 and 93725.
Recipients of the nano-loans can use the funds to increase product inventory and create better marketing and branding.
CDFIs also provide recipients technical assistance that traditional banks may not provide, such as help with financial planning.
To date, 67 small business loans have gone out in Fresno, totaling more than $3.5 million dollars.
Of the businesses in Fresno that received loans, 37% are women served business, 90% are people of color served businesses, 63 people were served for technical assistance, and two products have been created from the grant.
Saint Rest Community Economic Development Corporation — born of the iconic West Fresno Baptist congregation — is joining the collaborative to help with developing more affordable housing in preparation for the looming housing crisis spurred by Covid-19.
The collaborative will also deploy a relief grant of $1,000 for 50 small business owners — with an emphasis on those not qualifying for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
“We want to be proactive while people are in a crisis. Affordable housing and continuing to support small business are our priorities for 2021,” Nicholson said.
At Access Plus Capital, the grants from JPMorgan Chase have given the CDFI the opportunity to better understand the needs of local businesses and organizations that work with entrepreneurs that have traditionally not had access to capital.
“Along with the lending, we strive to provide the technical assistance to our targeted clients that have never accessed a loan or perhaps do not even have a relationship with a bank. That’s where we come in. We want them to feel comfortable coming to us as a nonprofit lender that’s going to guide them through understanding the process of a loan,” said Ana Medina, director of business development and services at Access Plus Capital.
The main purpose of the loan products from Access Plus Capital is to bridge clients to traditional lenders like large banks. Access Plus Capital is more willing to do a $5,000 loan along with technical assistance than a traditional bank.
The nano-loan product ranges from $5,000 to $20,000 and is tier based depending on credit requirements.
“A traditional bank wouldn’t even make enough money on a smaller business — they would rather go for the $500,000 loan. It’s important for us to provide that level of access and support for the smaller businesses,” said Tate Hill, Access Plus Capital executive director.
Skin in the game
B.O.K. Natural is one of the businesses in Fresno that benefited from Access Plus Capital’s nano-loan product.
Owner and licensed esthetician Brianna Knight launched her luxury skin care line B.O.K. Clinical in 2017 after her clients complained about other skin care products on the market.
In 2008 Knight was in college studying to be a doctor, but plans changed.
She gave birth to twin boys, but, sadly, one of her sons died.
Knight said the healing arts — creative practices that promote healing and wellness through activities such as music, art, meditation and any creative process, helped her with the grieving process.
She graduated from esthetician school and worked as an independent contractor. She was also an educator for the top spa development companies in the world, and has worked with a number of celebrities and government officials throughout her career.
Knight said she always had issues with beauty products growing up, as did her children and clients she’s worked with over the years. That experience inspired her to create a product that would work for a wide range of clientele.
“Being a woman of color, I took into account that Native American, Asian, Indian, Hispanic — it’s all considered ethnic. When you tackle that, you have to have a specialty in that and experience working with ethnic skin,” said Knight.
In the beginning, however, Knight said not having business credit created financial obstacles. She started with a natural skincare line all on credit, but eventually, she couldn’t keep up with the demand, which is a problem she said she has noticed with other smaller natural beauty and wellness companies.
Since Knight went to school to be able to make natural beauty products, she made her company’s products by hand and labeled the packaging herself. It was a long and tedious process. It took her about a month to make one large batch of products.
Knight eventually dissolved the natural line and started her clinical brand in May 2020 with a manufacturer she’s been working with for 10 years.
Usually, it is an eight to ten-month process from figuring out the formula of a product with a manufacturer, to getting it to customers.
Putting down roots
Knight received $5,000 from Access Plus Capital’s nano-loan product, as well as technical assistance to help build and expand her brand in the area.
That money will go towards Knights’s own hands-on, interactive beauty facial service brick-and-mortar store in Downtown Fresno. The spa will focus on helping clients understand how to keep their skin healthy.
Covid-19 has raised concerns about regulations with spa services, but Knight said she already has a location scoped out.
Knight is pushing to open the downtown location within the next six months to a year.
“I’m expecting a lot of growth. We have a lot of things in the pipeline, we are going to be published in more major magazines, we are looking to do some partnerships with some bigger influencers. This year is going to be big,” Knight said.