The Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund still has $125 million in loans available, especially for businesses owned by minorities and women.
The fund was launched in July as a public-private partnership that provides low-interest loans to small businesses and nonprofits in Connecticut. The program was designed to lend over $75 million — $150 million from a foundational investment from the state. So far, the fund has loaned $23 million to more than 190 businesses, according to fund statistics sent to the Record-Journal via email.
The program is aimed at helping small businesses and nonprofits — particularly those owned by women and minorities — with access to flexible working capital. This was a policy decision by senior management, said Sheila Hummel, business development program manager for the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
“Knowing some business owners face systemic barriers to accessing financing and business resources, 50% of financial assistance [is] directed to minority-, woman-, disabled- and veteran-owned businesses, and businesses located in distressed municipalities,” she said in an email statement. “We value these businesses and their contribution to the economy in Connecticut.”
So far, 58% of boost fund loans have gone to minority- and women-owned businesses. Boost fund loans have a fixed 4.5% interest rate. The intent was to make the cost of capital affordable to small businesses and aid in the recovery and growth of existing small businesses during the next five years, Hummel said.
In the U.S., women have only been able to get a loan in their own name, without a male co-signer, since the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988. The federal law overturned state laws that required women to have male relatives sign for business loans, in addition to establishing women’s business centers. Thirty-five years later, there is still a large gap in business ownership, particularly among women and minorities. In Connecticut, minorities made up 22% of workers, but only 13% of business owners, according to the Small Business Administration. Similarly, women made up 48% of workers, but 41% of business owners in 2022.
Jovanna Mejia works to remedy some of these historical disparities as an associate lending manager at the National Development Council, a national nonprofit that manages the fund’s operations in Connecticut. Mejia is from Cartagena, Colombia. She said that her work is important to her as a Latina. “I want to make sure that women and minorities are able to know and have access to this amazing product,” she said. “You can really make a difference with businesses and that’s really our goal — to reach and to provide as much as we can to these minority and women-owned businesses.”
Mejia explained that traditional lending for small businesses usually depends on what collateral a business can provide. They also usually have short terms and high interest rates.
Mejia explained that the 4.5% fixed rate is a few percentage points lower than the Prime Rate, which was 7.75% at time of publication. She added that most banks would also add a few additional percentage points, based on the kind of loan. “The parameters of the [boost fund] loan are lower cash flow requirements, no collateral requirements, such that historically underserved businesses can gain access to the capital that they need,” she explained. “This is critical, as it helps tear down the historical economic barriers that allow businesses to build the capacity over time.”
Boost fund loans have a 60- to 72-month payback period and can range from $5,000 to $500,000, according to the boost website.
After completing an online pre-application and matching the small business with a community lender, Mejía said that the community lender will assess the business and its capacity for repayment in the long term.
The pre-application can be accessed through the boost website. It is made up of 14 questions that consider a business’s ability to repay the loan, how the loan fits into their business plan, the possible impact of the loan on the business and other financial obligations of the business.
“We want to ensure that any new debt that this business is taking on is not going to negatively impact the business,” Mejia said. “When payments start, it also allows them to continue to positively cashflow instead of having a very high loan payment for a very high loan amount that could potentially negatively impact the business.”
If the loan is approved with a community lender, Mejia explained that there is a fairly broad number of things it can be used for, including equipment, payroll, utilities, rent, back rent, marketing, building renovations, or even to refinance a loan with a high interest rate.
While boost fund loans are available to businesses or nonprofits that have 100 or fewer full-time employees and annual revenue of less than $8 million, each community lender targets a different demographic with their specific needs.
Director of Programs and Small Business Lending Earl Randall works with Capital for Change, a Community Development Financial Institution based in Wallingford.
He said that Capital for Change generally serves small businesses owned by Black and Indigenous people of color with less than $1 million in revenue.
“Many of those smaller businesses that maybe make ten, twenty or fifty thousand are not as adept, for lack of a better term, in securing funding,” he said. “So our approach is to be more inclusive and instructive as we navigate the process.“
Randall added that applying for loans or economic assistance can be “a bit of a hassle,” so there are also technical assistance programs available to small businesses through the fund.
Scott Arnold works with the Small Business Development Council at UConn, one of the four technical assistance providers that partner with the fund. A Wallingford resident, he said he has 25 years’ experience in banking and lending.
Technical assistance is often confused for tech support, but they are not the same. Technical assistance provides targeted support to a business with a developmental need or problem and seeks to build the capacity of a business, Arnold said.
For the fund, the council team is able to walk business owners through pre-loan, loan, and post-loan.
After matching with a local lender, sometimes a business needs help preparing a number of technical documents. The particular documents vary based on the community lenders, but Arnold cited documents like proof of revenue, a debt schedule, covered debt plan, business plan, valid operating licenses and letters of good standing with local government offices.
“We’re not here to prepare your financial statements, but we can help you in putting those together,” Arnold said.
After the loan, he added, the council can help businesses with services like marketing, market research, planning, cybersecurity, business disruption plans and more.
He also added that technical assistance programs can refer businesses to the right resource.