VOL. 8 | NO. 8 | Saturday, February 14, 2015
Ready.Fund.Grow! Offers Help for Women-Owned, Small Businesses
JOE MORRIS | The Ledger
Small and women-owned businesses will have new sources of capital and know-how in 2015, thanks to a new initiative, Ready.Fund.Grow!, being developed by Pathway Lending and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC), along with a new Women’s Business Center which will be operated by Pathways.
Ready.Fund.Grow! will serve to connect small business owners with lines of credit, which remains tight through standard lending channels even though the overall U.S. economy continues to improve.
The women’s center, one of only six approved by the U.S. Small Business Administration, will focus on women entrepreneurs in the Nashville and Clarksville areas, and is set to open in early 2015 in Nashville’s MetroCenter.
Both initiatives should see a brisk business from the get-go, says Amy Bunton, senior vice president at Pathway Lending, who also is serving as interim director for the Women’s Business Center.
“We are always keeping our eyes open for ways to further support the business community, and both of these were a natural fit for the core competencies we’ve operated in for the last 15 years,” Bunton says of Pathways, which works in low- to moderate-income communities across the state as a U.S. Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institution.
“We work with a lot of minority- and women-owned businesses, and know what important and growing business sector those are. So when the SBA put out a notification asking if there were any nonprofit organizations that wanted to participate in the Women’s Business Center program, we did a very quick proposal and not even 60 days later, were provided notification that we would receive the designation.”
The center will work with women who already have a business in operation as well as those who are in the planning stages. It will offer consulting, training, peer-to-peer engagement and online webinars and events around expansion, cash flow management and obtaining capital.
“We’re going to do a lot of customized training and working in partnership with other resource providers and private sector companies, so that we can bring things to the marketplace that do not exist right now,” Bunton says.
“For instance, there’s a lot of assistance out there for exporting, and that’s a great diversification strategy for Tennessee businesses. In February, we’re going to get in front of a few dozen businesswomen and let them talk to the experts who are exporting overseas. In those one-on-one conversations, they’ll get a personal touch and some mentoring that’s not available right now.”
The center also will work with its clients to help them receive various certifications around being minority and/or women owned, and then successfully work their companies into the supply chain so that they can obtain contracts.
In so doing, it will focus on industry sectors that are flourishing in Tennessee, such as the automotive industry.
“We want to focus on all business types, obviously, but those that are here and doing well will get plenty of attention,” Bunton says.
“We want to look at technology, retail, industrial, manufacturing and all kind of service providers, so that we have a good stable of resources.”
As far as the automotive industry goes, Pathways already has a ready partner in the state’s DRIVE! Region consortium, which is recognized by the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Investing Manufacturing Communities Partnership (ICMP) as a supporter of that sector.
“In 2013, the federal government launched the ICMP, which was designed to bring together several federal agencies to help communities in different ways, but through one organization,” explains Charles Shoopman Jr., assistant vice president of the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service.
“They wanted proposals on how a region might restore and boost manufacturing in that area, so we worked with 14 organizations around the automotive industry, and last April received our designation as one of 12 ICMP partnership regions across America.”
The DRIVE! Region covers 69 counties, and works to grow the automotive sector and sustain its competitiveness in that area. Having strong women-owned companies will only help that effort, Shoopman says.
“Having more of those is certainly something important to the DRIVE! Agenda, and so we are glad to help the new center ensure that innovation is occurring within all kinds of companies within the automotive supply chain,” he says. “These are both exciting programs, and as we see more and more new companies coming into fruition, we’ll see more development and initiatives within the automotive sector so that growth and innovation continue in the region.”
The center and DRIVE! also will likely interact with the Ready.Fund.Grow! Initiative, which will see the TSBDC and Pathways collaborate to bring companies together with funding.
Pathways will finance qualified applicants who have worked through TSBDC’s centers across the state, while the TSBDC will work with those clients to develop loan packages that will receive accelerated underwriting from Pathways.
Loan amounts will range up to $100,000, and will be available for machinery and equipment, working capital, supplies and materials, inventory, accounts receive and purchase-order financing.
Applicants must have been in business for 24 months, and be able to show that they can take on debt. The two partners have already worked out approval criteria, so that the applicants who make it through the process will be well positioned for approval.