City of Dallas helps small business reach next level

The Dallas Examiner

“We’re a family of givers,” said BT, a cancer survivor who requested that her full name not be used. An attendee of the city’s Small Business Resource Workshop held April 18 at the Eastfield College Pleasant Grove Campus, BT and three of her friends were in the audience with the intent of starting a registered nonprofit.

“What we’re looking for is trying to find out how to, I guess, to get things started,” she said. “Everything we’ve done so far, we’ve used our own capital, and so now we’re ready to expand and we’re trying to find out, what’s our next step?”

BT pointed out that her group has already been providing services to cancer patients whenever possible but wanted to ensure that their efforts remained sustainable when she reaches retirement in a few years.

Many in the crowd were in her shoes, trying to get to that “next step” – whether it involved creating a business, acquiring a loan, applying for certification with the city, or any other multiple aspects to small business ownership.

The workshop created by the Office of Economic Development was similar to many the city is sponsoring as part of the Neighborhood Plus plan.

“They have identified 11 neighborhoods … and they are charged with revitalizing those areas,” said Seferinus Okoth, a senior planner in the city’s Planning and Urban Design office, during the program.

“One of the things that the community always brings up is they want business,” Okoth said about the neighborhood’s revitalization plan. “They have very few businesses, so we figured out – ‘How can we attracted business to this community?’ And the best way was to identify small businesses that are already operating in or around the surrounding communities.”

Okoth added that the workshop was developed “… So that we can make connections with the businesses that are in the surrounding areas. So, our goal is that today our small business owners that are here are going to speak to most of the speakers that we have here to make the connecting and do a follow-up meeting with them afterwards.”

During the bilingual forum, time was provided for business owners and potential entrepreneurs to meet with nonprofit microlenders as well as representatives of the Dallas Business Resource And Information Network, Dallas Business Development and Procurement Services and other partners.

Microlenders are those who lend money in small amounts to impoverished individuals and groups who are unable to obtain loans from mainstream banks, as defined by Merriam-Webster. One such resource was Accion, represented by senior loan officer Millie Garcia.

“We are a nonprofit organization, and we do loans for small business owners anywhere from $1,000 up to $1 million,” she said, indicating that some loans could be processed within 24 to 48 hours. Accion specializes in lines of credit, working capitol, transportation and trucking purchases, and free-of-charge training and other resources.

Rosie Rueda, a loan officer with LiftFund, commented that her company helps businesses that traditional for-profit banks shy away from. She described LiftFund as a safe alternative to payday and title loans.

“We have a program, if you get in trouble, where we can refinance you out of those loans,” she said.

However, as Rueda described the factors used in granting a loan, she confirmed that lenders will always want to be paid back their loan plus some interest. Getting a loan is contingent on the entrepreneur’s ability in being able to pay it back, along with additional factors.

“The next thing we look at is, especially if you’re a startup, is what are you investing in your business? If you’re a startup company, no lender will finance you 100 percent. So if your project cost to get started is $100,000… the lender will only finance $80,000. You have to have $20,000 either in the bank or receipts to prove that you’re vested,” she explained. “The reason we do that is, why should we invest in you and give you the loan if you’re not willing to invest in yourself?”

Tassjania Lozano, manager at PeopleFund, admitted that her nonprofit was not too different than some of the others, but added, “What’s kind of nice about PeopleFund is, if we are not the best program for you, we have a great relationship with LiftFund and with Accion so we send you their way.”

Lozano did mention that her organization was especially focused on assisting minorities, women and veterans who operated in low-to-moderate income areas, and helped with loans through the City of Dallas.

Narrowing the scope of specific business needs further, Katrina Pitts of Women in Need of Generous Support discussed her company’s emphasis on female entrepreneurship.

“Our focus is on women who want to become small business owners through an educational mentorship program,” Pitts said. One such WiNG course is a 50-hour development program. “So if you have a business idea, or you’re currently in business, or want to sustain your business, we help you develop your community.”

Laura Hurtado, with the city’s Development and Procurement Services, informed the audience that it was through her office that business owners could get registered with the city and bid on contracts. Her office also plays a major part in minority contracting.

“For any contract that the city of Dallas has – whether it be construction, staffing, IT, concessions – if it’s over $50,000, whoever wins that contract has to share a percentage with minority/women-owned businesses.”

At the close of the event, BT spoke with appreciation to the city about the variety of services the workshop united under one roof. “We got a lot of good information. What we’ll probably do, we’ll take the workshop – the 50 hour classes – to help us with not only our marketing but with our business planning,” she said, referring to the WiNG program.

“I also talked to the LiftFund and she said that she’s going to be able to give us some information as well,” BT said. Additionally, a website for her service organization would be on the way. “I learned a lot, I really did. It was very helpful. I’m glad they had it.”

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