Since the beginning of Accion's lending in the U.S., we have invested in entrepreneurs considered by traditional financial institutions to be too "risky" to fund. We continue to believe that an applicant's creditworthiness should be determined holistically – not just by a simple algorithm or FICO score, but also by the character of the business and how it contributes to its broader community. And we know this approach works – our net default rate in 2015 was 3.3%, and the businesses we serve survive at a rate of 97%.
The business lending landscape is evolving at a dizzying rate. Innovations in technology are opening new channels to those seeking capital, but some of the new products available are short-term and high-cost. In some cases, hidden fees and daily payment requirements cause business owners, who may be unable to differentiate good options from bad, to pay the price. An increasing number of entrepreneurs are approaching Accion with debt from these alternative, often unregulated, lenders.
In 2015, Accion responded to these challenges by co-founding the Responsible Business Lending Coalition, which developed the Small Business Borrowers' Bill of Rights. Together with the coalition, we are working to ensure that small business financing products are transparent, fair and put borrowers' interests first.
At the same time, and with increasing urgency, Accion looks to wisely deploy technology that will delight our customers while we increase our efficiency and scale. That's good business for Accion. Equally important, as a mission-based lender, we must be visible in the market and offer strong, safe, convenient and appropriate products. 2015 investments drive our belief that we can increase the number of loans we make fourfold by the year 2020 while we maintain our commitment and personalized approach to improving the financial health of those we work alongside.
We look forward to continuing our progress toward greater financial inclusion for our nation's small business owners. Our investments today are bringing us closer to the financially inclusive world of tomorrow.
Chief Executive Officer
Building on the 2014 launch of Accion's online lending platform, Accion continues to invest in new technology initiatives. Supported by the Sam's Club Giving Program, The MetLife Foundation, and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, the 2015 phase of this initiative focused on:
In 2016 and beyond, our investments will allow us to provide a more efficient application experience, say "yes" to more entrepreneurs, enhance the wrap-around services we provide to our clients and maintain our outstanding track record of portfolio quality.
We have seen the "ripple effect" of our lending and business resources. Through our own data and through initiatives like the Aspen Institute's EntrepreneurTracker, we know that our services transform lives and strengthen communities. In 2015, with lead support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and in conjunction with Opportunity Fund in California, we launched the first national, longitudinal, qualitative study focusing on the multifaceted impacts of mission-based lending. We look forward to sharing the results throughout the study and to improving and expanding our strategies to bolster community revitalization throughout the nation.
"Sam's Club has been serving Small Business owners for 33 years across the U.S. and we know firsthand how challenging it can be for them to reach their full potential. In 2015, Sam's Club and Sam's Club Giving Program announced goals for the Small Business Economic Mobility Initiative, which include increasing access to capital and training for underserved entrepreneurs. Accion, The U.S. Network is leading an ambitious program to scale and innovate, which we believe will deliver transformational change for small business owners and communities. Sam's Club Giving Program also appreciates Accion's collaborative approach in sharing insights to help make us a better funder, and inform the field." – Susan Koehler, Senior Manager, Sam's Club Giving Program
"Accion is a leader in providing Main Street small businesses with the capital and technical assistance they need to be successful. We are proud to support the work that they do to lift up minority-owned businesses so that they can become engines of job growth and economic vitality in the neighborhoods they serve." – Janis Bowdler, Head of Community Development and Small Business Initiatives for Global Philanthropy, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
"At MetLife Foundation we believe that strengthening the institutions that provide top quality service to low-income populations is a wise investment. Accion's ability to reach more small businesses is a win-win: More entrepreneurs grow their businesses sustainably, hire employees and support their families. Accion grows stronger and can reach even more small businesses with their affordable loan products and business training." – Dennis White, CEO and President, MetLife Foundation
All business owners need tools and information to improve their financial health. In 2014, supported by the Sam's Club Giving Program, the MetLife Foundation, and Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream, we launched an online library of articles, videos and trainings on topics such as how to build or repair credit, how to develop a business plan, how to use social media for business, and how to spot predatory lending. In 2015, visits to the business resource library grew 287%, bringing over 22,000 new users to the website.
Check out our featured business resources from 2015:
Receiving a loan is just the first step in growing a thriving business. Together with our partners, Accion offers the personalized training, mentoring and resources that entrepreneurs need to reach their full potential.
The Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Program, in partnership with Accion, was created out of brewery founder Jim Koch's desire to support other food and beverage entrepreneurs. Due to lack of credit, the small size of the loan request, or the volatile nature of the food and beverage industry, these businesses are often denied traditional loans. In addition to financial capital, the program provides a community of support through mentors, speed coaching events, workshops, webinars and business pitch competitions.
Growing up, Jessica Spaulding was not allowed to eat sugar. But using her entrepreneurial skills, she struck a deal with her mother: if she could make her own candy, then she would be allowed to eat it. She learned to make all types of chocolate at nine years old, a passion that would inspire her latest endeavor, Harlem Chocolate Factory. Jessica received a loan from Accion made possible by the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Program to prepare a pitch, buy supplies and make samples for a business plan competition, where she won a $15,000 prize. She worked with a Samuel Adams employee mentor to improve her sales process and was even asked to include her product in Samuel Adams' holiday gift boxes, which boosted demand for her chocolates. "I have a list of retailers now that are interested," she said. "Everyone is really supportive."
"I am incredibly proud of the work that Sam Adams and Accion are doing together to support food and beverage business owners. Accion's expertise in lending and financial education, coupled with our team's industry-specific business know-how, delivers more value for entrepreneurs than either of us could bring alone." – Jim Koch, Founder of Samuel Adams
Many entrepreneurs are motivated not just by a desire to succeed financially, but also by a commitment to make positive change. Whether they're providing a supportive space for community members, creating employment opportunities, or tackling a social justice issue, these business owners are revitalizing their neighborhoods and changing lives for the better. The Communities with HART program, a partnership between The Hartford and Accion, is committed to supporting community-oriented businesses in Connecticut, Chicago, and San Diego through access to capital and financial education.
Nick Romero has been cutting friends' hair since he was 14, even while he was deployed in Kuwait and Iraq. "Where I come from, the barber shop is the neighborhood community center," he said. After returning to San Diego Nick built a steady clientele of friends and opened up Rawknykz Barber Shop in 2011 to keep up with demand. The shop, which included chairs for Nick and three other local barbers, became a community hub for youth, veterans and local residents. In 2015, with support from Accion and The Hartford, Nick upgraded the shop, added two new chairs and hired a braider. In addition to providing opportunity for those who work at his shop, Nick gives back by serving on a local community council, volunteering at his daughter's school, and participating in local art projects.
"The Hartford is committed to building safe, strong and successful communities where small businesses can prevail. As part of that effort, we are proud to be Accion's national partner to help business owners who do not have access to traditional sources of capital gain access to financing and the know-how to manage and operate sustainable enterprises." – Diane Cantello, Vice President of Corporate Sustainability at The Hartford
Accion Fast Track is an intensive leadership and business accelerator program providing clients with the expertise they need to achieve business growth and success. The program allows entrepreneurs to take a step back from their day-to-day work and focus on how to strengthen their companies and develop themselves as leaders. In 2015, 27 outstanding Accion business owners participated in the Fast Track program with support from the Capital One Foundation and the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. Participants experienced an average of 200% revenue growth and hired an average of five people each. In addition, approximately 40% of participants reported an increase in their level of well-being over the course of the program. Brandi Jennings, owner of B-Fab Construction in Denver, CO, said that the program helped her take on bigger construction projects, better understand her business' financials and address business challenges. B-Fab Construction tripled its sales in 2015 and Jennings hired 13 new employees.