When you imagine a business loan meeting, you might picture a big scary bank and a trembling business owner begging for assistance. But Patricia Kibbe, President/CEO of Evergreen Business Capital Community Finance (EBCCF), says not all lenders work that way.
“We often say that a person’s story is more important than their credit score. We can discern if someone has the passion and drive that lends itself to success,” she says. “EBCCF provides capital for small businesses with limited business ownership experience. We envision a region of healthy, thriving communities where people are empowered to start, develop, and grow businesses.”
While the lockdowns of the early pandemic are now behind us, many small businesses continue to experience economic hardship related to the pandemic. That’s why the Washington State Department of Commerce is supporting the Small Business Flex Fund, a loan program designed to help Washington’s smallest businesses and nonprofits bounce back stronger than ever.
Matching borrowers with supportive, experienced community lenders
The Small Business Flex Fund is different from other COVID-19 recovery programs because of its network of nonprofit, community-based lenders (including EBCCF) that have decades of experience helping Washington’s small businesses and nonprofits thrive. Through every step of the loan process, these community lenders are there to assist with the application and can make connections to business support services in your community.
“Borrower applicants submit matching criteria through a common portal that matches them to one or more community lenders. The process assesses the borrower’s readiness to take on debt and provides significant guidance,” Kibbe says. “Many borrowers have never been eligible for a loan product and the documentation can appear onerous. We help break it into bite-size chunks and provide technical assistance through the experience.”
This kind of engagement and support is a surprise to some small business owners, but it’s how Evergreen works with clients across all of the products they offer.
“Among the borrowers we work with, many do not have formal accounting systems. We need them to establish those systems and practices, but we work with our coaching providers (Washington Small Business Development Center, for example) to help them get all the required documentation.”
At least 60 percent of the funds EBCCF awards must be deployed to economically marginalized communities including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, veterans, women, and immigrants, among others. So far, the Small Business Flex Fund has provided flexible loans with fixed interest rates to nearly 700 Washington businesses, and 80 percent of those are owned by immigrants, women and people of color.
Small Business Flex Fund eligibility criteria:
- Fewer than 50 employees
- Annual revenues of less than $3 million
- Experienced direct economic hardship due to COVID-19
- Apply before February 2023
- See the full list of criteria at SmallBusinessFlexFund.org
Low interest, flexible loans:
- Borrow up to $150,000.
- Fixed 3-4 percent interest rates
- No fees
- Interest-only payments for the first year (note: this is not a grant; at the 13-month mark borrowers begin making payments towards interest plus principal)
- 60-month loan terms. Unlike the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or other Small Business Administration programs, the Small Business Flex Fund is NOT a forgivable loan.
- The money can be spent flexibly, including on payroll, utilities & rent, supplies, marketing & advertising, building improvements or repairs, and other business expenses.
Learn more about the program or apply for your loan at SmallBusinessFlexFund.org.