Affordable Financing from a Trusted Source to Start and Grow Your Business
Geri Stengel, WE NYC Mentor
Geri Stengel - Ventureneer

Women – especially low-income and immigrant women – don’t simply have less of their own money to invest in their businesses. They’re also less likely to have the things traditional banks care about when lending money. “They have limited credit history, use informal financial documentation practices for their small business, have smaller capital needs and have language barriers,” said Matthew Revere, manager of lending of Accion, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).

CDFIs lend money to small businesses, such as women- and minority-owned firms, that commercial banks deem risky. CDFIs support their borrowers with training and technical assistance to ensure their success, making these alternative lenders a long-established social investment option. Their  funders include the United States government, commercial banks, foundations and faith-based organizations, all of which have been getting a steady return by investing in CDFIs. Accion’s funders include Bank of America, Chase and TD Bank, among others. It partners with corporations such as Samuel Adams and Kate Spade to provide borrowers with mentorship and advice.

According to Revere, Accion East specializes in working with small businesses that face significant barriers in raising money. A limited credit history, informal documentation practices around finances, smaller loan needs and communication barriers all contribute to challenges for women seeking traditional financing . Accion loans range from $500 to $250,000. Companies – including those in the areas of childcare, restaurants and food and beverage – use the money to start and grow.

If you and your business don’t fall within the criteria of traditional lenders such as banks, a CDFI like Accion may be your ticket to a loan that lets you start, grow and thrive.

Geri Stengel

Interest rates range from 8.9% to 15.9%. These are higher than commercial banks but more affordable than credit cards and many other alternative finance options. Rates are fixed for the life of the loan, and are determined by factors such as the client's business experience, cash flow and credit history. Through the Tory Burch Foundation and Upper Manhattan Business Loan Program, small business owners may qualify for reduced-interest-rate loans.

Accion has flexible requirements for different loan amounts and different businesses, so it’s best to talk to a loan consultant to get the full picture on what you’ll need to provide. However, Accion does have some high-level requirements that you should consider. Like most lenders, it looks at a combination of credit, cash flow and character. Accion’s minimum credit score for business loans is 575. For those entrepreneurs with no credit history, Accion offers special loan programs.

Cash flow is the most important loan criteria Accion considers; it wants to know you can support monthly loan payments. Expect to be asked to provide bank statements and tax returns if you are applying for a larger loan amount. For loans less than $50,000, Accion’s turnaround time is between three and 10 days. It also offers loans for more than $50,000 that are backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and may require more documentation. Expect a longer turnaround time for these (30 to 60 days).

Accion is helping women grow thriving businesses. A couple examples include:

Nadira El Khang of Nadira Bag migrated from Morocco. While in college, she started designing, making and selling handcrafted leather bags for friends and family. Based on her success, she opened an Etsy store. Her first Accion loan was a credit-builder loan for $1,000. She used the money to purchase leather and tools for her handcrafted bag business as well as to establish a personal credit history. Through Accion, Nadira learned to use QuickBooks, rented space and created a website.

Cheryl Smith of Cheryl’s Global Soul learned the restaurant business by starting as a dishwasher. She went on to become a Food Network star and to receive a Small Business of the Year Award. At first, Cheryl sold sandwiches during lunchtime in Soho from a basket. Now she owns a restaurant in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn that employs 17 people. Cheryl was turned down by a traditional bank when she sought financing to complete the restorations at the Brooklyn location. Accion East approved her for a $30,000 loan. Cheryl most recently received a loan from Accion to replace kitchen appliances and expand the catering side of her business.

If you and your business don’t fall within the criteria of traditional lenders such as banks, a CDFI like Accion may be your ticket to a loan that lets you start, grow and thrive.