As a Black female entrepreneur, I’ve run into a lot of cold shoulders when I’ve asked for help investing in my businesses. So, when I heard that our state Legislature and governor created a new fund of up to $40 million over the next five years to help broaden access to prosperity for those like myself, I was excited that more people will find a vote of confidence in their dream.
I started working in restaurants to help put myself through school — from hostess to baker and chef. A great restaurant is more than just what you see on the menu. When everything is clicking, it becomes a social hub of hospitality. So, after visiting Seattle 30 years ago and falling in love with the fresh local food, I knew this is where I wanted to open my own restaurant.
Unless you are already wealthy or have wealthy friends, you need a loan to start a business. It can be scary — especially if you don’t have great credit or don’t fit the formula for a traditional banking institution. And as it has been acknowledged to me by white men that I’ve done business with over the years, the same opportunities available to them historically just haven’t been there for Black women like myself. That’s why I decided to partner with Craft3, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), when I needed a loan for my business.
A CDFI is usually a nonprofit and is certified by the U.S. Treasury Department to provide affordable loans and technical services for communities historically underserved by traditional banks and credit unions. Craft3, a local CDFI, has programs tailored to support people of color and helped me through application paperwork. The new state fund, created by the Equitable Access to Credit Act, will provide up to $8 million a year to help support CDFIs so that more people may access an affordable loan, take courses on business practices and responsibly pursue their dream.
When the omicron wave hit, it washed over restaurants already brought to their knees by the pandemic and having a loan in place helped me keep the doors open. Now that things are busier, I am excited about investing in the restaurant and bringing Miss Marjorie’s Steel Drum Plantains — the retail version of our most popular appetizer — to a larger audience.
Part of why I’m thrilled that our state created this new fund is that it will help remove that ceiling on prosperity that can hover over the heads of people of color building their own business. Existing loan programs such as Washington’s Small Business Flex Fund are helpful. The new program created for CDFIs by the Equitable Access to Credit Act is a great next step in our state’s commitment to addressing inequities for accessing capital.
The Flex Fund is an important component in this work, targeted for supporting established small businesses and nonprofits. As a complement, this new Equitable Access to Credit Act program supports lending to a broader community of businesses and people who maybe haven’t gotten their great idea off the ground yet need help with certain home improvements, or need a larger loan than the Flex Fund can offer. I’m hoping that we can continue to establish more tools like these to help people invest in their communities, whether it is affordable loans or grants to launch their nonprofit organization or business.
As Washington rolls out this milestone investment in the work of CDFIs, what we are really doing is investing in the diversity of our communities. For example, last year CDFIs invested more than $81 million in 1,500 young small businesses in our state. By making it easier for everyone to access capital responsibly, we are making it much more likely that our communities will fully reflect everyone who loves to call them home.