The Indy Chamber's Business Ownership Initiative has been chosen as an official microlending intermediary by the U.S. Small Business Administration, giving the business group access to federal funds to expand its lending efforts to small-but-growing companies across the nine-county Indy region.
Microlending provides modest loans - typically in the low-five figures - to support companies that may not meet traditional banking standards or have connections to other sources of funding.
"Small business owners are our risk-takers, innovators and job creators," said Indy Chamber President and CEO Michael Huber. "Many companies reach a point where they need a little capital to make a big leap forward - say, $5,000 to $50,000 to lease more office space, hire another employee or buy new equipment. Access to capital is a major issue, so we aim to provide alternative financing along with the advice and training to help make every dollar count."
Business Ownership Initiative (BOI), a division of the Chamber's Entrepreneur Services program, already oversees one of the nation's largest Chamber-affiliated microloan funds. Its current loan pool of more than $2.1 million in public, private and philanthropic funds now includes a $250,000 commitment from the SBA; the intermediary designation could add up to $5 million. BOI also offers free one-on-one business coaching, classes and other services to help loan recipients and other local businesses.
"Ninety percent of businesses in our region have less than 50 workers, and they account for one of every five Indy jobs," Huber noted. "Partnering with the SBA to strengthen microlending is a smart economic development strategy, supporting the homegrown ventures that generate employment and investment."
Huber lauded the leadership of U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly, who championed BOI's inclusion in the SBA program. Serving on the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Donnelly has pushed bipartisan legislation to ease regulatory burdens on small business lending, and sees microloans as another top entrepreneurial priority.
"Small businesses are the backbone of our communities by providing new opportunities for growth. I was proud to support the effort by the Indy Chamber's Business Ownership Initiative to become a microlending partner," said Donnelly. "This affiliation will allow them to leverage SBA resources to help small businesses expand, create jobs, and promote economic development in Indiana. I will continue working with my colleagues on the Senate Banking Committee to help small businesses access resources to grow."
Stacey Poynter, Indiana District Director for the SBA, formalized the agency's commitment while praising the Chamber's emphasis on small business success: "The Indy Chamber's connections and commitment to the region's business community makes them a great partner for this initiative, and we look forward to working with their Business Ownership Initiative to help small employers across the metro area reach their potential."
The current microloan program has already lent over one million dollars since inception, with 27 loans outstanding. Ranging in amounts from $1,000 to $100,000, these funds have helped local companies like Stage Ninja, BOI's first borrower, who hosted today's announcement.
Founded in 2007, Stage Ninja manufactures state-of-the-art cables, clamps and other accessories for live music productions and the custom needs of other industries including airlines, hospitals and state of the art auditoriums. The company has repaid multiple microloans, moving on to leverage additional financing and achieve 330 percent growth since first turning to the Indy Chamber and BOI in 2010. Founders Brent Eskew and Clayton Willis credit the Entrepreneur Services team for supporting Stage Ninja as it launched new products and pursued a broader market.
"More than tripling in size over five years takes a solid business plan, financial backing and satisfied customers," explained Willis. "The microloans were critical, but the Chamber's coaching and strategic planning support really prepared us to grow."
"As a startup manufacturer, cash flow is always an issue when you're moving from prototypes to production," added Eskew. "These loans aren't free money - you're held accountable. But if you're confident in your strategy and are willing to work hard, the microloan program is a great resource to bridge the funding gap."
To help Stage Ninja and the nearly forty other companies that have received loans, BOI has been supported by the City of Indianapolis, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, corporate partners like JPMorgan Chase, and non-profit givers including the Glick Fund - its chair, Marianne Glick, was also on hand to celebrate the expansion of the program.
"Working in our family businesses and later launching my own businesses, I learned that education and knowledge are critical to business success." Glick said. "We created this microloan program with BOI in 2010 because the program thoughtfully pulled together funding with vital coaching and training sessions to help the recipients improve their odds of success."
Last year, BOI business coaches spent more than 1,200 hours in free one-on-one sessions with small business owners, helping hundreds of employers beyond those who ultimately applied for microloans.