Providing relief for small businesses impacted by COVID-19
Through the Open for Business Fund, Wells Fargo is supporting nonprofits that provide needed capital, technical support, and long-term resiliency programs for small businesses.
For brothers Jeron Dotson and Justin Bush, it is allowing them to purchase commercial equipment when they finally open their restaurant, The Poke Bowl, in Flint, Michigan. For Kadijatu Ahene, it is helping her shift her business, Dija's Touch Designs, to an e-commerce model. For Ranjana Hans, it is allowing her to expand her presence at the local farmer’s market and grow her business, Raw Roots Turmeric, in Columbia, Missouri.
These are among the more than 2,800 entrepreneurs with small businesses impacted by the pandemic who are receiving low-cost loans to help keep their doors open, retain employees, and grow, thanks to Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund.
In July 2020, Wells Fargo launched the Open for Business Fund to reinvest about $400 million in gross processing fees the bank would have received from the federal government for lending through the Paycheck Protection Program — a government stimulus program providing small businesses with short-term cash flow assistance — to further help entrepreneurs recover. Through the Open for Business Fund, Wells Fargo is supporting nonprofit Community Development Financial Institutions that provide needed capital, technical support, and long-term resiliency programs for small businesses, particularly those owned by underrepresented individuals as part of fostering an inclusive recovery.
Local Initiatives Support Corporation is one of the first CDFIs that received support from the Open for Business Fund. Since then, LISC teamed up with social impact platform Kiva for a portion of the funding to provide grants and low-cost capital to entrepreneurs like Dotson, Bush, Ahene, and Hans.
"Small businesses are critical to the success of our country and a great gateway into employment and wealth building in parts of the community that maybe haven’t been able to participate before.” — Bill Taft, senior vice president for economic development for LISC
“When the pandemic hit, we knew it would hit the small businesses LISC works with harder than most,” said Bill Taft, senior vice president for economic development for LISC. “The communities we work in tend to be under-resourced or rural industries, so access to capital for entrepreneurs is particularly difficult when times are tough. We needed to step in and fill that gap to relieve the impact of the pandemic and help them grow back. Small businesses are critical to the success of our country and a great gateway into employment and wealth building in parts of the community that maybe haven’t been able to participate before.”
Through Kiva’s site, entrepreneurs who are endorsed and supported by a trustee, such as a CDFI, seek out fundraising for loans up to $15,000. Approved loans are matched through Wells Fargo’s funding to LISC, and borrowers have up to six months to begin repayments.
“By working together in our approach with Wells Fargo, we are able to fund capital to allow small entrepreneurs to meet their capital goal twice as fast,” Taft said.
‘COVID happened, and we got shut down’
This opportunity is helping businesses like The Poke Bowl finally open. Dotson and Bush had the idea for the restaurant in 2016, at the start of the Flint water crisis, when many people were finding different career outlets, Dotson said. While he and Bush were in California several years ago, they tried poke, a Hawaiian and Japanese-inspired dish with raw fish and fresh vegetables.
“I was like, ‘This is it. There’s no way I’m leaving without this. We’re taking this back home,’” Dotson said.
Since then, they’ve participated in and won several pitch competitions, earning money, gaining connections, and spreading the word about their business. In 2018, they won another pitch competition, securing a spot in a work-live space, which broke ground in April 2019 and is expected to open in spring 2021.
In the meantime, Dotson and Bush worked on their business plan and cash flow projections and sold their food at various events. “The calendar was full, and then COVID happened, and we got shut down,” Dotson said. “That pushed a lot back as far as the building and business.”
They have been selling poke bowls at local stores, but they turned to Kiva for help in opening a restaurant. Tracy Joseph, business finance manager for the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, the trustee organization for The Poke Bowl, said their drive is amazing. “When people make suggestions, they analyze them and dive in. That’s what I look for.”
Since receiving a loan for $6,500, Dotson and Bush have used it to pay for insurance, bills, and supplies to open their restaurant. “With the community behind us and these organizations, it is like, ‘We’ve got this,’” Dotson said. “It is like hope.”
‘This is giving me more confidence to grow my business’
Raw Roots Turmeric, a health and wellness business, has also been affected by the pandemic. Ranjana Hans started the business after seeing how raw turmeric and ashwagandha improved her and her family’s health and wanted to take it to the next level. Hans uses fresh roots to maintain the freshness, taste, and nutritional benefits, allowing people to consume them in their daily lives.
Hans has been selling her products, which include turmeric paste, ashwagandha paste, turmeric jiggery syrup, turmeric ghee, roasted masala tea, turmeric relish, and dried tulsi leaves, at the local farmer’s market, but she isn’t able to provide samples, and the foot traffic has been smaller during the pandemic. To help Hans grow her business and find other channels, Jessie Yankee, director of the Missouri Women’s Business Center, suggested trying to get a loan through Kiva — and agreed to sign on as a trustee.
“Ranjana has continued to work on her business from the first day,” Yankee said. “Ranjana knew this was her dream. She wants to help people. It’s about bringing wellness she has experienced to others. We’ve been so proud to watch her develop.”
Hans received a $6,500 loan, which she has so far put toward purchasing new pots, pans, packaging, and labels for her products. She said she is using the money slowly and is grateful that she’s able to do that.
“I’m thankful for the whole process,” Hans said. “This is giving me more confidence to grow my business.”