Demand Increases For Micro-Loans

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Banks have tightened lending since the recession. And if you're a start-up business with no capital, you can all but forget getting a loan from them. But one local agency that is lending to small businesses and it's watching them grow.(Photo: teamperks (flickr))
Banks have tightened lending since the recession. And if you're a start-up business with no capital, you can all but forget getting a loan from them. But one local agency that is lending to small businesses and it's watching them grow.(Photo: teamperks (flickr))

Banks have tightened lending since the recession. And if you’re a start-up business with no capital, you can all but forget getting a loan from them. But one local agency that is lending to small businesses and it’s watching them grow.

Josephine Talieh could be considered quite a success story. A native of Cameroon she came to the United States to study for a year at the Ohio State University. Talieh expected to leave in 1995. But she got married and became a U. S. citizen.

Several years later, in 2003, she came up with a business idea: to train nursing assistants for a state program that helps elderly patients with daily-living chores in their homes. She got a grant from the Economic and Community Development Institute, or ECDI, in Columbus.

“I had my $2,000; they match it with $2,000. And they made sure the $4,000 was all invested in buying equipment for the business,” Talieh said.

ECDI is a micro-lender that offers grants and loans to entrepreneurs who otherwise would be turned away by banks.

While the Small Business Administration defines micro-loans as $35,000 or less, ECDI’s founder, Inna Kinney, said most of its loans are considerably smaller.

“Sixty to 70 percent of our clients do come in with a request of $10,000 to $15,000 or less,” Kinney said.

Kinney said the demand for micro-loans is high. And it’s not just start-up companies looking for some capital.

“It’s everyday businesses. Everyday businesses that need cash flow. Everyday businesses that need to purchase some type of equipment. They need to pay some of their vendors. They need to pay money for rent,” she said.

ECDI lends as much as $400,000 a month. And Kinney said the demand has increased. Lending has quadrupled this year and she anticipates making $3 million in loans.

Elaine Edgcomb directs the Aspen Institute’s Field Program which focuses on micro-development. Edgcomb expects data to show a sharp rise in micro-loan requests, and a shift in demographics.

“A number of those individuals are individuals who prior to the financial crisis and economic recession would have qualified for bank loans, or have used their home line of credit to finance some business needs and both of those sources are not available to them,” Edgcomb said.

And Edgcomb said more established businesses are turning to the micro-loan. ECDI has seen a change in its customers. Amy Szabo is their development director.

“We see a lot of existing business that used to have revolving lines of credit or have access to bank capital who are now coming to us,” Szabo said.

Aspen Institute’s Edgcomb said micro-loans may sound risky. But she said their repayment rates are actually pretty high.

“And that’s because these loans are often coupled with technical assistance and with much closer monitoring than a formal financial institution would ever give a borrower of this type. And that added support is what helps make these entrepreneurs successful,” Edgcomb said.

ECDI’s repayment rate is 99 percent. But Szabo said 10 percent of the loans are 30 days or more past due. The agency credits much of its success to its training classes on business and marketing strategies.

Josephine Talieh is the success story you heard of earlier. Her business, Easton Healthcare Agency, has grown tremendously, from just two employees to 33, since her first $2,000 grant. And as her business has grown and evolved she has gone back to ECDI for additional loans. About $6,000 worth.

“Without them, I would probably just have closed my doors. As I said, each time I went back to the banks, they weren’t there for the small businesses. But when I went to ECDI, the money was there,” Talieh said.

The ECDI program has been a financial life line not only for Talieh but for hundreds of entrepreneurs in Central Ohio. Interest rates on the loans range from seven-and-a-quarter percent to twelve percent.

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