The Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund, designed to help the smallest businesses and nonprofits across the South rebuild from COVID-19, has deployed an initial $11 million in flexible, low-interest loans across 14 states and Washington, D.C. Created by community lenders to provide affordable capital and free advisory support to entrepreneurs in underbanked communities, the Fund now has an additional $53 million available to help small businesses build back from the pandemic.
Of the $11 million distributed to nearly 250 small businesses, 79% of loans have gone to business owners who self-identify as a woman or a person of color, with 49% going to Black-owned businesses. Nearly 90% of the loans went to businesses with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees, and 76% of recipients have annual revenues less than $500,000. Small businesses supported have included restaurants, early childhood centers, health service providers, local produce farms, construction contractors, and retail stores, among others.
Overhead Station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, is one of the businesses that has benefited from a loan from the Fund. After receiving a SOAR loan through nonprofit lender NDC, the gift shop with two employees was able to freshen up their storefront, purchase new merchandise, and buy additional display fixtures.
"The reason I liked this loan is because of the interest-only payments for a year," said Tami Windell, co-owner of Overhead Station. "I worked with NDC to design a loan I could afford to pay back."
The SOAR Fund makes low-interest loans and free business support available to businesses and nonprofits with 50 or fewer full-time employees in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Eligible applicants can apply online and be matched to a lender in less than five minutes at www.thesoarfund.org.
The loans are made by nonprofit Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which are mission-driven lenders that have been serving un- and underinvested small businesses for decades.
"We are thrilled that the SOAR loan program is achieving its intended impact to boost small business recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 and that we are reaching the business owners the program intended to help. SOAR is designed for the smallest of small businesses and those that have been historically underbanked, including those in rural and low-income areas and those owned by women, people of color, and immigrants," said James H. Bason, President and CEO at TruFund Financial Services, one of the 12 participating nonprofit lenders. "These businesses often struggle to access credit from traditional sources but are critical to providing jobs and supporting economic recovery in communities across the South. That's why we will continue to work hard to get money into the hands of these small business owners."
Launched with support from philanthropic, private and corporate investors, the Fund has grown to $62.5 million with recent support from Visa Foundation, Compton Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
"The Compton Foundation is thrilled to support the SOAR Fund as part of our long-term commitment to ensuring that our investments align with our mission," said Ellen Friedman, Executive Director Emeritus at the Compton Foundation. "We hope that the example of this partnership inspires other foundations to increase their commitment to using investment dollars to advance change in the world."
"We are excited to partner with the Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund to enable equitable access to capital at scale for historically underserved small businesses," said Graham Macmillan, Visa Foundation President. "The Fund's approach of providing patient and affordable financing alongside technical assistance via trusted partners is critical for generating growth and resilience among small businesses and the communities they serve."
"At this critical moment, CDFIs have been a lifeline for small business owners, particularly women and people of color, in rural and urban communities where many are underbanked and left out of much needed COVID-19 relief," said Cynthia Muller, Director of Mission Investment at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. "The SOAR Fund has coalesced a dynamic network of trusted lenders across the South and Southeast who are rapidly deploying flexible capital to reimagine a more equitable economy for all."
Initial catalytic grants and support came from Capital One, Ceniarth, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Chartrand Family, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, F.B. Heron Foundation, Fidelity Charitable with support from CapShift, the Grove Foundation, the Heifer Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, Mercy Investment Services, Microsoft, the Ms. Foundation for Women, North Berkeley Wealth Management clients, Winrock International, and Woodforest National Bank.
Additional technical assistance and business support are provided through Winrock International, Local Initiatives Support Corporation's (LISC) local offices and national rural program, and Small Business Majority, which help with outreach, education, and hands-on business advisory services. Calvert Impact Capital is arranging, LISC Strategic Investments is managing the Fund, and it is using Community Reinvestment Fund, USA's Connect2Capital platform to host applications. For more information, visit www.TheSoarFund.org.
About the SOAR Fund
The Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund (SOAR) provides access to flexible, affordable capital and free business support services to small businesses and nonprofits through trusted community-based organizations. These community lenders have decades of experience supporting historically under-resourced small businesses, including those in low-income and rural communities and owned by women and people of color.
Participating community lenders include: Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE), Accion Opportunity Fund, Ascendus, BCL of Texas, Black Business Investment Fund, Communities Unlimited, LiftFund, Partner Community Capital (formerly NCIFund), NDC's Community Investment Loan Fund, Pathway Lending, People Fund, Southern Bancorp Community Partners, and TruFund Financial Services.
SOAR is a collaborative partnership of local and national community finance organizations created to address the needs of historically disenfranchised communities as they navigate and rebuild from the COVID-19 crisis. SOAR includes leaders from across sectors including local community lenders, national and state-based nonprofit organizations, corporations, philanthropic donors, and investors - all who are passionate about an equitable recovery across the region. Learn more: www.TheSoarFund.org.
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