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Minority business loan effort launches in Winston-Salem

Minority business loan effort launches in Winston-Salem


The Winston-Salem Foundation is helping a nonprofit lender expand its reach into Forsyth County with a $100,000 investment into Piedmont Business Capital for loans to minority-owned businesses here.

The Foundation said its investment is the first from its new Inclusive Economy Portfolio, a "mission-aligned" investment fund created to support "local businesses and organizations working for social change."

Brittney Gaspari, the foundation's vice president of community investment, said the need for a lender emerged from listening sessions the foundation held as it explored how to move forward with the new program.

"One of the things that was cited was a lack of local capital for a variety of different types of projects," Gaspari said during a news conference. "We knew that if we wanted to make movement in the area of building an inclusive economy, we could not just 'grant' our way through that."

Wilson Lester, the executive director of Piedmont Business Capital, said his non-profit lending agency can make loans that other financial institutions might not make. The nonprofit will launch its loan-application process in January.

"We are interested in deploying capital to businesses that have been marginalized by the local banks," Lester said. "We color outside the box on local lending. We accept some things that some financial institutions may not — organizations that may not have fit the traditional mold."

Piedmont Business Capital was formerly called the Greensboro Community Development Fund, but Lester said the new name speaks to the wider footprint the nonprofit lender is trying to establish.

In Greensboro, Lester said, the nonprofit has a portfolio of more than 110 companies with $1.6 million in loans. 

"These businesses range from service-based businesses such as a janitorial company, to businesses that are mom-and-pop main street stores," he said. 

Lester said Piedmont Business Capital also has a portfolio of restaurants, adding that one advantage to companies that get the loans is that they can take advantage of "shared learning" to gain more experience in running their businesses profitably.

Piedmont Business Capital will be working with companies that get grants through another program announced in September called the Minority Business Enterprise Grant Program, which is coordinated through Greater Winston-Salem Inc.

That program has assembled $1.2 million that will be paid out in grants of up to $25,000 to assist businesses owned by Blacks and Hispanics.

"That $1.2 million program has created a stir," Lester said. "We had conversations with the leader of their steering committee and determined that it would make sense to partner and create a debt opportunity for small businesses that are awarded a grant. We can offer those candidates up to $10,000 from the Black and Brown Ownership Fund that we are branding."

The loans granted by Piedmont Business Capital can in turn help small businesses establish credit in more conventional financial markets.

"What we are offering them is almost like a pre-approval," Lester said. 

Winston-Salem Foundation officials said their Inclusive Economy Portfolio is designed to reduce barriers to wealth formation and help people build financial resilience. 

The foundation has earmarked $1.3 million for the Inclusive Economy Portfolio with the intention to increase the amount over time if needed.

Meanwhile, Lester said that while the loan program is starting out with only $100,000 to lend during its first year, the hope is to keep the program going with additional capital.



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