Credit Union Collaboration Funds Small Business Dreams
Business Impact NW CUSO helps underserved entrepreneurs gain access to capital and financial guidance.
Business book enthusiasts have undoubtedly read “Purple Cow” many times and have mastered the art of making their businesses remarkable. But have they tried the truly remarkable purple cheesecake from Hood Famous Bakeshop?
It’s made with purple yams and is the brainchild of Chera Amlag. The entrepreneur started Hood Famous Bakeshop with her husband—and with funding from Business Impact NW, a Credit Union Service Organization (CUSO).
“The difference was that I felt like I didn’t have a loan officer,” said Amlag of her experience getting her Business Impact NW loan. “I felt like I had an advocate.”
That’s the whole idea, according to Phil Jones, President and CEO of Lakewood, Washington-based Harborstone Credit Union, where Business Impact NW started.
“We saw many businesses that were denied access to loan capital,” Jones said. “These businesses were often from disadvantaged communities or from underserved demographics. Most banks aren’t interested in the businesses because the profit margins aren’t there, so we saw an important gap that we felt credit unions could fill.”
The underserved demographics Business Impact NW include women, people of color, LGBTQ community members, veterans, and immigrants.
“Access to capital and business training for micro-businesses and those from traditionally underserved segments is a problem,” said Jones. “These small businesses are engines for our local communities’ growth. They tend to hire locally and to invest heavily back into our communities. Serving them will help our communities grow and prosper, which is ultimately good for credit unions.”
Since Business Impact NW was founded 21 years ago, it has provided financial counseling classes and $71.5 million in business loans to 1,500 borrowers who would have been turned away by other financial institutions. In addition to Harborstone, BECU and Verity Credit Unions are investors in the CUSO.
“Credit unions have always been community minded and focused, so this kind of lending fits well with our traditional mission,” Jones added.
As to how Business Impact NW’s lending serves the entrepreneurs it loans to, consider Chera Amlag’s story. Since starting as a “popup” restaurant and expanding to wholesaling to grocers and restaurants, the business has grown. Just three years into her venture, Amlag now also owns a Hood Famous Bakeshop, with a full production kitchen and sweets-to-go-counter.
Business Impact NW was featured in a Public News Service online and radio story last week, which was picked up by media in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.