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.

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Eligibility

  • 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

Gender

  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

California

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started

12/08/1993

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

Budget

  • $1m - $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

http://www.opportunityfund.org

Twitter URL

http://twitter.com/opportunityfund

Facebook URL

http://www.facebook.com/opportunityfund

LinkedIn URL

http://www.linkedin.com/company/opportunity-fund/?trk=top_nav_home

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 businesses 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. Small businesses owners face an additional threat from alternative financing products that feature fast cash, but at a high cost that can starve cash flow. Opportunity Fund is pursuing a vision of financial inclusion for small business owners.

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 U.S., Opportunity Fund provides loans of $2,600 to $250,000 to diverse small business owners who lack the resources – but not the resolve – to succeed. Each loan creates and retains almost 3 jobs, on average; every $1 we lend out drives a ripple effect that generates $2 in new annual spending, wages, and tax revenues. Yet the capital gap for underserved entrepreneurs is far greater than we can fulfill on our own. Opportunity Fund’s Lending as a Service (LaaS) solution will expand access to responsible capital for thousands of underserved small business owners across the U.S. Our LaaS solution is a technology platform that will enable Opportunity Fund to partner with other local and online lenders, microenterprise training organizations, equipment manufacturers, and other business services’ providers to offer our responsible loan products to their small business clients across the U.S. This platform will leverage data analytics, technology, and our deep market knowledge to expand our reach and deliver responsible capital to thousands more small business owners across the U.S.

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 underserved entrepreneurs access responsible capital, rather than fall prey to short-term/high-cost merchant cash advances and other alternative financing products. Hasani and Ruben are long-time friends and 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. Next they went online and applied for a loan from Lending Club, the largest online loan marketplace. They didn’t qualify, but their application was automatically referred to Opportunity Fund through our tech-enabled referral platform. With a loan from Opportunity Fund, 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 still left out of the mainstream financial industry and are increasingly targeted with offers for high-cost alternative financing products. Two-thirds of our borrowers are low- to moderate-income, with an average income of less than $40,000. Nearly 90% are entrepreneurs of color.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • immigration status
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are hundreds of non-profit and community lenders across the U.S. that seek to support diverse entrepreneurs, but very few have the resources and capacity operate at scale. By offering a scaleable solution through our referral platform, Opportunity Fund seeks to leverage partnerships with these organizations to “grow the pie” – reaching underserved small business owners who might not otherwise find a responsible loan and expanding the capacity of our partners to serve more diverse entrepreneurs.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Since our launch in 1994, Opportunity Fund has originated more than 12,500 loans and invested $270M in underserved small business. These loans have created and sustained 24,000 jobs and generated $500M in additional annual economic activity through new wages, spending, and tax revenues. Our clients include borrowers like Maria, founder of Cosmetica Latina, a cosmetology school with a team of 25 instructors and staff that has graduated more than 700 students in barbering, cosmetology, and esthetics. When Maria needed capital to help expand her school, the only option she could find was a high-cost merchant cash advance loan. Then one of our partners connected Maria to Opportunity Fund, and we refinanced her merchant cash advance, lowering her monthly payment from $6,000 to $1,600, freeing cash to reinvest in marketing, and helping rebuild her business lending profile.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

Opportunity Fund’s Lending as a Service platform will leverage technology to establish fully integrated partnerships and deliver responsible capital to thousands of entrepreneurs across the U.S. We piloted this referral platform in CA through our partnership with Lending Club, before expanding the partnership to serve clients in 12 other states. Moving forward, we will focus on scaling our reach and impact by establishing new partnerships with lenders, manufacturers, microenterprise development organizations, and other mission-aligned groups serving small business owners across the U.S.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Large Scale Partnerships

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Opportunity Fund’s sustainable business model balances earned income of 65% (through loan fees/interest) with 35% contributed income (corporate, government and foundation grants and individual donations). We are actively seeking philanthropic contributions to provide necessary up-front investments in talent and technology to build out our referral platform. Over time, the platform will improve the efficiency of our program delivery, leading to greater loan volume and increased earned revenue.

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)

  • Communities of color

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

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