For Accion Southern California CEO, Elizabeth Schott, the excitement and enjoyment she feels for her job shine through in the words and actions of her nonprofit organization that helps provide education and financing to new entrepreneurs and current business owners in the community.
“I am a huge believer in the power of small business,” she said. “I love seeing the ripple effect of its impact on the community through its support for families and jobs.”
Recently celebrating its 25th year in operation, Accion is a nonprofit, mission-based micro-lender, whose primary goal is to support low-to-moderate-income entrepreneurs and minority business owners to grow a healthy business. Its micro-lending program ranges from $300 to $100,000 and helps those who don’t qualify for traditional sources of credit or don’t meet the specific criteria that most lenders require.
“With our more flexible criteria, we can support them with a loan that provides the capital they need to start or grow their business,” Schott explained.
Accion has helped an array of businesses get started or expand. Including Shore Buddies, a San Diego company that recycles water bottles to create ocean-themed stuffed animals, and J&T's Gourmet Sauces, a Riverside company with a secret barbecue sauce recipe, oozing with potential success. The nonprofit stays true to its roots and strengthens the foundations of emerging entrepreneurs, which then creates positive social and economic change in communities. In the past 25 years, Accion has lent over $43.5 million, which includes more than 4,700 loans to 3,300 businesses.
“Our portfolio has $8.5 million in outstanding loans and serves entrepreneurs from service and retail industries to farmers' markets and legal services,” she said. “These small businesses are 68 to 70 percent ethnic- or minority-owned, 50 percent women- and men-owned (each), and 68 to 70 percent low- to- moderate- income-owned.”
In addition to micro-loans, Accion provides guidance and training programs for entrepreneurs to help grow and develop their business.
“We are coupling access to capital with education and other resources so there is ultimately long-term success for these small businesses,” Schott said. “By providing resources such as workshops, marketing assistance and social media expertise, it can help these entrepreneurs have additional tools to help them succeed.”
The CB&T Community Reinvestment team, Steven Herman and Lisa Brooks, have been working closely with Accion for more than eight years to help deliver educational seminars around small business credit and banking needs.
“We are proud to support entrepreneurs in underserved areas across the state with educational programs to help them learn about alternate micro-financing options they need to grow their business,” Herman said. “As a result of our success with Accion, we are now expanding our support to include other organizations that offer a similar program in Northern California.”
Like most organizations, Accion has faced some challenges with COVID-19. Many of their clients are being heavily impacted by the current climate—requiring some entrepreneurs to pivot their business model. Accion is doing its part by offering a lower-interest loan product, restructuring loans and, even deferring payments, if necessary, to free up client cash flow for emergency purposes, as well as restructuring over 50 percent of its portfolio to date. Schott noted that enhanced technology increased the nonprofit’s efficiency, but the loss of in-person interactions between Accion employees and entrepreneurs remains an issue.
“The human touch is necessary to understand our clientele’s needs,” Schott said. “There was a lot of guidance and hand-holding to help our clients complete their applications, and we’ve pivoted to offer this digitally. We also haven’t had the same visibility to help reach out in person to these business owners, but we've been working closely with local chambers, business associations and other community partners for grassroots outreach.”
By empowering home-based and main street businesses, Accion helps fuel growth in underserved communities across the United States.
“Our goal at the end of the day, as a mission-based community organization, is to get business owners the help that best suits their individual needs,” Schott emphasized.
Accion serves the Southern California counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Imperial Valley. CB&T is proud to be a partner and supporter of Accion Southern California.
CB&T has supported Accion with financial expertise, philanthropic support for grant funding, and educational workshops that it co-hosts with Accion. These workshops are usually held two to four times annually, in English and Spanish, on various financial topics such as loan preparation, documentation, lending options and qualification criteria. Accion’s local board of directors includes CB&T’s Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Chikako Tyler, and retired CB&T executive, Gene Louie. [cite::171::cite] [cite::172::cite]