The Power of Yes - Investing in Underserved Small Businesses at Scale
Opportunity Fund says "Yes!" to the dreams of enterprising entrepreneurs by providing access to responsible capital at scale.
Melchor used a loan from Opportunity Fund to open a new location in San Jose, CA for Mexico Bakery, his family's successful business, and created a dozen jobs.
Maria used an Opportunity Fund loan to expand her school, Cosmetica Latina, and train hundreds more students in barbering and cosmetology.
An Opportunity Fund loan helped Tina grow her barbecue joint and hire more staff, including individuals who faced hurdles to employment
I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
I am over 18 years of age
My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States
Where are you making a difference?
Focus Areas (required)
Business & Social Enterprise
Development & Prosperity
Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.
Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)
Website or social media URL(s) (optional)
1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.
Opportunity Fund was founded with the idea that small amounts of money and support can help close the opportunity gap for working families. Twenty-five years later, we have shown this is an idea that works. Our clients tell us that they could not have done it without the help Opportunity Fund provided. But to us, it's clear: all our clients need is someone to say “Yes!” to their dreams. CEO Luz Urrutia is passionate about opening doors to the financial system so that enterprising entrepreneurs have the chance to get ahead, instead of just getting by. Luz has challenged the OF team to leverage the strengths of our talent and technology to say “Yes!” to thousands more entrepreneurs.
2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
Small business ownership can generate wealth that leads to household financial health, yet too many entrepreneurs can’t access capital to grow. 8,000 small businesses are turned down by a bank every day. Alternative financing products offer fast cash, but at a high cost that can starve cash flow. Opportunity Fund is pursuing a vision of financial access and inclusion for small business owners that will translate to improved financial stability.
3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
As the largest nonprofit lender to small businesses in the US., OF provides loans of $2,600 to $250,000 to entrepreneurs who lack the resources—but not the resolve—to succeed. Each loan creates/retains 3 jobs, on average; every $1 we lend drives a ripple effect that generates $2 in annual spending, wages, and tax revenues in under-resourced communities. Our borrowers have a 94% business survival rate and 97% repayment rate. Yet the capital gap for underserved entrepreneurs is far greater than we can fulfill on our own. Our Lending as a Service (LaaS) solution harnesses the power of partnerships to dramatically expand access to responsible capital. LaaS is a technology platform that enables OF to partner online with community lenders, microenterprise training organizations, vendors, equipment manufacturers, and other groups that work with small businesses to offer our responsible loans to their small business clients. This platform – a first-of-its-kind in community development - will leverage technology, data analytics, and our deep commitment to delivering an exceptional customer experience to fill the financing gap for thousands more small business owners across the US.
4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.
Opportunity Fund’s Lending as a Service platform leverages technology and partnerships to help entrepreneurs access responsible capital, rather than fall prey to high-cost alternative financing products. Hasani and Ruben are partners in Exclusive Window Cleaning, which specializes in graffiti removal for commercial clients. When they needed a loan to expand, their bank turned them down. They went online and applied for a loan from our partner, Lending Club, the largest online loan marketplace. When they didn’t qualify, their application was automatically referred to OF through our tech-enabled referral platform. If it weren’t for this unique referral partnership, Hasani and Ruben’s only option would have been a high-cost cash advance. Instead, with an affordable loan from OF, the friends were able to hire four additional employees and take on a new commercial contract with Starbucks.
5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?
Opportunity Fund targets small business owners who face barriers to financial inclusion—from sole proprietors whose financing needs are too small for banks, to more established entrepreneurs who are increasingly targeted with offers for high-cost alternative financing products. Two-thirds of our borrowers are low/moderate-income. Nearly 90% are entrepreneurs of color. Ten percent are “credit invisibles,” meaning they have no credit score and are locked out of the mainstream financial system.
5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:
6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?
There are hundreds of community lenders across the US that seek to serve entrepreneurs who are considered higher risk, but very few have the resources and capacity to operate at scale. Yet the demand for affordable financing is enormous. Through our LaaS platform, OF will leverage partnerships with these lenders to “grow the pie” – reaching underserved entrepreneurs who might not otherwise find affordable financing. Ultimately, our technology solution seeks to scale the total capacity of the microlending industry to ensure that every small business owner can access capital to grow.
7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
Since 1994, Opportunity Fund has originated 12,500+ loans and invested $270M in underserved small businesses. These loans have created and sustained 24,000 jobs and generated $500M in annual economic activity through new wages, spending, and tax revenues. Our LaaS platform will enable us to invest another $1B in 30,000 small businesses by 2023 to clients like Maria, founder of Cosmetica Latina, a cosmetology school with a team of 25 employees that has graduated 700+ students in barbering, cosmetology, and esthetics. When Maria needed capital to expand, the only option she could find was a high-cost cash advance. Then a partner connected Maria to Opportunity Fund, and we refinanced her cash advance - lowering her monthly payment from $6,000 to $1,600 and helping rebuild her business credit. Maria’s business provides financial stability for her family, employees, and students.
8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?
OF’s LaaS platform uses technology to harness the power of partnerships so we can deliver affordable capital to thousands of underserved entrepreneurs. In 2016, we piloted an online referral platform in CA through a partnership with Lending Club; we then demonstrated the capacity for scale by expanding to 12 states. Building on what we learned, we will leverage the LaaS platform to facilitate new partnerships with lenders, microenterprise development agencies, and other mission-aligned groups to expand access to capital for the small business owners they serve across the US.
8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?
9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?
Opportunity Fund’s sustainable business model balances 65% earned income (loan fees/interest) with 35% contributed income (grants/individual donations). We are working with our Board and funders to secure philanthropic contributions for up-front investments in talent and technology to build out our referral platform. Over time, the platform will improve program efficiency, leading to higher loan volume, increased earned revenue (up to 75%), less reliance on philanthropy, and sustainable growth.
10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?
OF’s team of high performing professionals blend experience from the private and non-profit sectors, and combine social entrepreneurship with a commitment to serving low-income communities. Program staff embody our results-driven culture while reflecting the ethnic diversity of our target population. As a Latina, immigrant entrepreneur, CEO Luz Urrutia draws on deep knowledge and experience from her 30-year career in community banking, alternative financial services, and small dollar lending.
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)
Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)
How did you hear about this challenge?
Program Design Clarity
OF provides loans of $2,600 to $250,000 at fixed interest rates of 8-18% to entrepreneurs who lack good options for responsible financing. We reach small business owners through a combination of our “street team” of bilingual loan consultants; partnerships with mission-aligned community organizations; and referral relationships with banks, vendors, and other business services providers. Our LaaS platform will improve access by facilitating automated, online referrals from partners, while maintaining our high-touch approach through loan officers who work with applicants through the process.
Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?
Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work
Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)
Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.
LaaS harnesses the power of partnerships to deliver affordable financing to underserved entrepreneurs. We currently have “offline” referral partnerships with banks, auto dealers, food truck manufacturers, nonprofit training agencies, etc. who refer their clients to OF for financing. LaaS will leverage technology to automate the referral process with these partners so that we can deliver instant, pre-qualified loan offers to eligible small business owners—a first for the CDFI industry.
If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?
Opportunity Fund would use the prize money to build and implement a modernized online loan application that will provide a simple and responsive experience for small business loan applicants, as well as improved communications with referral partners.
Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?
OF and Lending Club won the Most Promising Partnership Award at the 2018 LendIt Conference for our unique referral partnership (which provides the foundation for building LaaS). OF received the NEXT Award for Opportunity Finance, Skoll Fdn. Award for Innovation, and SBA’s Financial Services Advocate of the Year. Founder Eric Weaver was an inaugural winner of the James Irvine Fdn. Leadership Award.