$15 million in philanthropy amplifies work of the nation’s leading nonprofit small business lender and helps launch $100 million capacity-building campaign in a time when resources are most needed
On August 6, 2020, Accion Opportunity Fund (AOF), the nation’s leading nonprofit organization supporting diverse, resilient entrepreneurs with funding, advocacy and business advice, announced today it has received a $15 million transformative grant from MacKenzie Scott. This is the largest individual donation Accion Opportunity Fund has received in its 26-year history.
The grant accelerates AOF’s efforts to reach thousands of underserved entrepreneurs with $1.2 billion in capital across the United States in the next five years. It also kicks off a $100 million capacity-building campaign, scheduled to launch fall 2020, to increase resources, including access to affordable credit, connections, and quality business advice for entrepreneurs who may otherwise be left behind.
“Like many, I watched the first half of 2020 with a mixture of heartbreak and horror,” Ms. Scott said in a statement regarding her philanthropy. “Life will never stop finding fresh ways to expose inequities in our systems; or waking us up to the fact that a civilization this imbalanced is not only unjust, but also unstable. What fills me with hope is the thought of what will come if each of us reflects on what we can offer.”
Accion Opportunity Fund creates a more equitable financial system by finding, funding, and supporting small businesses run by people of color, women and immigrants. Nearly 90% of businesses in its portfolio are run by entrepreneurs of color, women, and immigrants.
AOF CEO Luz Urrutia praised the gift from the philanthropist and novelist. “We are deeply humbled and grateful for Ms. Scott’s extraordinary generosity and confidence in Accion Opportunity Fund and other organizations that are working tirelessly to widen economic opportunities for many who have been undervalued and excluded for far too long.”
MacKenzie Scott donated $1.7 billion to organizations tackling a variety of social issues. Her contributions included support for women, racial equality and economic mobility – all causes supported by AOF and impacted by the organization’s mission.
Phil Black, True Ventures Co-founder, Accion Opportunity Fund Board member, and chair of AOF’s upcoming Campaign Steering Committee, said, “Ms. Scott’s leadership and generosity – especially during this moment of a global pandemic and the fight for racial equality – will inspire other philanthropists and advocates as AOF advances its mission and bolsters its impact in a time when resources are more important than ever.”
“Her focus on building a more just, equitable society reflects our highest ambitions, which makes this grant, in this moment, so special,” said Black.
About Accion Opportunity Fund
Accion Opportunity Fund is a U.S.-based nonprofit working to create an inclusive, healthy financial system that supports the nation’s small business owners. For thirty years, the organization has supported underserved entrepreneurs – including entrepreneurs of color, low-income entrepreneurs, and women – who often lack access to the financial services they need to build and grow their businesses.
About Opportunity Fund
Opportunity Fund, the nation’s leading nonprofit small business lender, believes small dollar loans help hard-working entrepreneurs make lasting change in their own lives and build stronger communities by growing businesses and creating jobs. Opportunity Fund’s community of donors and investors is creating an inclusive financial system that empowers women, immigrant, and minority small business owners. Our strategy combines microloans for small business owners and New Markets Tax Credit investments in high-impact community infrastructure projects. Since 1994, Opportunity Fund has deployed more than $1 billion and helped thousands of entrepreneurs invest in their families’ futures. The organization has committed to lending an additional $1.2 billion to small business owners across the country and investing $174 million in community real estate projects by 2023.
In March, 2020, Opportunity Fund and Accion, The US Network, joined forces to establish Accion Opportunity Fund, the first organization focused on a national microlending strategy to meet the credit needs of small businesses – developing new products, establishing new partnerships, promoting research and financial education, and leveraging digital technologies to support mission-driven lending. www.opportunityfund.org
June 11, 2020, New York, NY — Superfly announces its latest effort, Small Business Live, a philanthropic music experience supporting minority-owned small businesses across the U.S that urgently need our help. The event will take place Saturday, June 20, 2020 from 4-10 p.m. EDT, and will include performances by some of music’s biggest stars live across the country. On-site at local small businesses close to their hearts, as well as other unique locations, artists will share with viewers their personal stories behind what each business means to them and their communities. The event will be livestreamed on TikTok, the leading destination for short-form mobile video, which has been seen as a new home for several small businesses and entrepreneurs on the platform. Additionally, the event will be streamed live across YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitch, Twitter, LiveXLive and Bustle Digital Group’s publications, and will be presented by Superfly with founding partners TikTok, AT&T Business, GoDaddy, Vistaprint and Square. Bustle Digital Group, producer of countless pieces of content spotlighting at-risk small businesses, will serve as the official media partner for this event and stream the event on Bustle.com, as well as its other sites and social channels.
All proceeds from Small Business Live will be donated to Accion Opportunity Fund. Superfly chose to support this non-profit given their nearly three decades track record of providing almost 90% of their loans to small businesses founded by people of color, as well as supporting immigrant-owned and women-owned businesses. Viewers will be encouraged to donate to the cause via text per a special code that will be made readily available closer to the June 20 event date. Charitable funds will be accepted during the livestreamed event, and fans will be able to donate on Superfly’s website before and after the livestream through June 26.
“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” said Luz Urrutia, CEO of Accion Opportunity Fund. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia, and oppression.”
Small Business Live will include a diverse lineup of some of music’s biggest names spanning multiple genres. Multi-platinum MC and “One of the Very Best Rappers Alive” (Noisey), 2 Chainz, two-time Grammy Award-winning singer-rapper, T-Pain, Billboard Women in Music’s 2015 “Powerhouse,” Brittany Howard, Top Ten soul inspired R&B artist, Leon Bridges, multi-Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter Brandi Carlile, and Americana-soul notable, Nathaniel Rateliff are all set to headline Small Business Live.
Joining these award winning headliners will be R&B singer-songwriter, Allen Stone, Nashville based indie-alternative rock band, Moon Taxi, Bob Marley’s grandson, singer-songwriter Bam Marley, and viral TikTok creator, rapper, singer, and music producer, Jufu, who is a true testament to TikTok’s ability to propel emerging artists and raise their platform as the destination for music discovery. Every artist involved will take part in helping support a small business of their choosing.
“Three and a-half million small businesses are currently at risk of permanent closure due to COVID-19, with a disproportionate number of them being minority-owned,” said Rich Goodstone, co-founder of Superfly. “We look forward to raising the profile of this issue by showcasing amazing music performances and the stories of small businesses across America that urgently need our support.”
Superfly is a live entertainment and brand experience company shaping how the world plays and connects. Founded in 1996, Superfly’s expertise is building cultural experiences with a distinct identity, such as the iconic Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Outside Lands and The FRIENDS Experience that are equally desired by brands and destinations for fans. Additionally, Superfly strategically helps brands establish and raise their profile through programming, design, digital, social, influencer and experiential platforms. Superfly is headquartered in New York, with offices in Chicago and San Francisco. Learn more at http://superf.ly/, and follow Twitter @Superfly, Facebook www.facebook.com/superfly and Instagram @superflypresents.
Tennis icon and fashion designer Serena Williams is launching Unstoppable, a special edition jewelry capsule to benefit Accion Opportunity Fund. The two pieces, in sterling silver with a diamond accent, are etched with the word Unstoppable around a polished circle. The elegant simplicity of the design is meant to reflect Serena’s positivity and determination, and to inspire her fans and followers also to be Unstoppable. The bracelet and necklace are accessibly priced at $100. Serena’s Unstoppable pieces are not only great-looking, on-trend jewelry, but they will also remind you that your strength, kindness and grace are, indeed, Unstoppable. And simply knowing that a piece of jewelry you put on in the morning helps others in impactful ways is empowering. Look fabulous and do good!
Through August 5, 100% of net proceeds of the Unstoppable limited-edition pieces will benefit exclusively Accion Opportunity Fund’s Small Business Relief Fund to provide support directly to Black small business owners. In addition, a percentage of other Serena Williams Jewelry core collection purchases will be donated to Opportunity Fund. The Serena Williams Jewelry Unstoppable collection is available as an e-commerce exclusive on serenawilliamsjewelry.com. In collaboration with global diamond manufacturer K.P. Sanghvi, Serena Williams Jewelry features ethically-sourced and conflict-free diamonds.
A Regained Life Through a Rediscovered Passion
Janie had always loved cooking, but it was in her early 20’s that it saved her life. “I became homeless due to addiction. I got sober but realized I had no sense of self. I knew that to stay sober, I needed to have a passion in life. Baking sort of stepped right in. It was the perfect outlet in regaining my life. Sharing things that I put so much love and effort into and seeing people’s reactions gave me the self-esteem and confidence boost that I needed.” Janie was working as a nanny during the day while baking at night, however she knew this routine was unsustainable. “I realized if I was going to actually make this into a real business, I had to make the jump and commit full-time.” Janie founded Janie Bakes, a wholesale and online pastry shop. “Since I started, it’s been crazy to see the exponential growth.”
A Future Derailed
In December 2019, Janie received a loan from Accion to launch a new product. She had dozens of orders lined up, yet her launch plans became completely derailed by COVID-19. “By March, all of those orders were delayed or cancelled outright, which put me in a huge financial hole.” Janie also participates in the Queens Night Market, an outdoor market with about 20,000 visitors nightly that was forced to cancel for the year. “For my summer months, this is about 75% of my monthly revenue so that’s been a huge setback. This is the only source of income for myself and my two employees so I’m worried about our financial health.”
Finding the Silver Linings
Despite the challenges she’s faced, Janie has found new sources of revenue. “I’ve had an 11,000% revenue increase in eCommerce from last year to now.” With a higher demand for packaged products in grocery stores, Janie was approached by Whole Foods to have her new product in 25 locations. “I was able to use the loan from December to have this new product ready to go. Without that loan, I wouldn’t be on Whole Foods shelves right now. All my retail was contingent on packaging, which was dependent on that loan.” Janie also received a PPP loan from Accion, which will help with payroll for her employees. “My number one priority is keeping my employees employed right now.”
Messages of Support
Throughout the past few months, Janie has also been reminded of the value of support networks as well as the value of herself, as both a small business owner, and as an individual with a story to share. “My community has grown and sustained my business and is what is keeping the literal oven on right now. I’ve gotten dozens of texts and emails from customers offering their support, someone I’ve met one time reaching out to me in such a personal way. I get chills just thinking about it. It made me realize how much of a following I have.”
Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary
Corina was working as a graphic designer in Venezuela when she suddenly became sick. Told by doctors to stop eating sugar and dairy, Corina was forced to change her diet, as well as her daily habits. “I paused my life and started to analyze what I should be eating. I started to look for alternative desserts that met the needs of my new diet and I found that there were few.” In response, Corina founded Vegallia, an online and wholesale shop offering dairy and gluten-free ice cream with creative and original recipes. “I wanted to make an ordinary dessert into an extraordinary experience.”
Rethinking the Future
As her business’s popularity increased, Corina moved to Miami in 2015 and opened a new production center in 2016. Even in a new city, her business quickly proved to be a success. However, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed Corina’s life completely. With the closing of restaurants and cafes, businesses that constituted most of Corina’s clients, her sales plummeted and rendered her current business structure unsustainable. “The biggest challenge now is changing my business model.” Fortunately, Corina had the support to do this from a $10,000 business grant she received from winning the 2019 Samuel Adams pitch room competition. The pitch room is part of the Brewing the American Dream Program – a partnership between Samuel Adams and Accion that provides capital and coaching to small business owners in the food and beverage industry. “With the grant, I can build my online platform to continue selling my product. Without that investment, I couldn’t do anything right now.”
Corina also received a loan deferment from Accion, who she had previously turned to for financial support during Hurricane Irma in 2017. “Accion has always been there for me, even during the most difficult times. They understand the challenges I’m facing right now. The loan deferment has helped me a lot because I need this time to find new clients. It’s so important to have this help right now because it’s a moment where I really need it.”
Unlocking New Potential
Despite the uncertainty she faces, Corina continues to uphold her business mission to offer an unforgettable product to customers. “In the long run, I have a great product that I can offer with a lot of potential.” No stranger to unprecedented challenges, Corina also maintains a sense of optimism for her business and for her community. “There are a lot of challenges but I’m also seeing a lot of opportunities. It has changed the lives of everyone in our community, but we are going to finish this stronger than before with better values and more knowledge. Even though today isn’t good, I feel positive about the future.”
A Café for the Community
A professional artist, Svetlana arrived in the United States from Russia in 1991 and wasted no time building a supportive network of like-minded individuals. Inspired by her peers and the cultural renaissance of her new home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Svetlana opened Anyway Café with her business partner and good friend in 1995, creating a space to gather and reflect the color of her new life. The café was an immediate success. “We exhibited local artists and musicians performing every night from all over the world, which we still do today. People love to be there; they love the cultural exchange that’s happening.” Svetlana soon opened a second location in Brooklyn, which quickly began to thrive as well. Always prioritizing her customers, Svetlana’s loyal patrons have spanned the decades. “We’ve had people get married here and now come back with their grown children.”
An Uncertain Time
After three decades of small business ownership, Svetlana now faces an unprecedented challenge that impacts not only her own livelihood, but that of her staff as well. As the COVID-19 pandemic forces non-essential businesses to close their doors, Svetlana had no choice but to do the same, leaving her and her 20 employees to charter the foreseeable future without reliable employment. “We’ve been like a big family and we feel responsible for the people who work for us. These are musicians who aren’t being paid. These are regular people with families, young people who are making their living.”
A Community that Prevails
Yet Svetlana has learned that the bonds of her staff are able to withstand even the most challenging of times. “My team feels very connected. There’s so much support right now – people calling each other, sharing resources, sharing different ways to obtain help, and really taking care of each other. There are such strong ties between us.” The staff also recently created a GoFundMe page to raise support for the restaurant. In navigating so much uncertainty, Svetlana has been able to ease some of her financial insecurity by receiving a loan deferment from Accion for the next three months. “The bills are accumulating. We still have rent, utilities and insurance. Receiving the deferment was fantastic. It absolutely helps for now.”
As the owner of a business that represents everything the COVID-19 pandemic prohibits, Svetlana looks forward to one day bringing those elements back into her customers’ lives with more gratitude than ever before. “We’ve always been a place of gathering and uniting people. I know once we reopen our doors, our customers will be lining up because they’re going to be missing each other and us so much.” Svetlana also believes that while this time is difficult, there are lessons to learn and a brighter future to come of it. “I hope that at the other side, people will appreciate things that they took for granted. I believe that’s the good in this.”
Planting an Impact
Passionate about food and inspired to help confront the challenges of America’s food systems, Jessie Banhazl founded Green City Growers in 2008. Green City Growers is an agricultural service that transforms underutilized spaces into gardens and farms. From the roof of Fenway Park to a vacant school yard, Jessie and her staff quickly began turning once-barren spaces throughout the Boston area into thriving gardens that provide one of the most essential, yet often inaccessible necessities to the community: healthy food. As her business name grew, Jessie continued not to lose sight of prioritizing community impact. In addition to garden installation, Green City Growers provides educational and wellness programs, with audiences ranging from students to senior citizens.
Walking on Thin Ice
In March 2020, the United States was hit with an unparalleled challenge to its food system, posing both significant obstacles and an urgent need for Jessie and her team. The COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurants and other non-essential businesses to close their doors, leaving Jessie with a fraction of her usual business clients. “The stress level has completely increased. I’m not even sure yet what our financial losses will be.” The current financial instability of Green City Growers has led to insecurity throughout the business. “We’ve decided not to rehire several new positions so I’m doing three people’s jobs. It’s scary when you’re operating with so few people and on such thin ice.” In need of immediate financial relief, Accion provided Jessie with a deferment on her small business loan. “The deferment is a welcome reprieve that will help ease the stress of cash flow and ensure we can uphold payroll.”
Keeping the Community Fed
In a time when grocery store trips have become challenging and even unsafe for many, Jessie has seen an unprecedented need from homeowners. “People want to be growing their own food in their own homes.” With access to food, particularly healthy and fresh food, an even larger challenge than before, Jessie feels both a determination to continue filling that need and a deep gratitude for the recognition from her community. “Access to fresh produce is an important part of the fabric of our society. It’s been clear that people understand why the work we do is important and I’m very appreciative of that. This food is going to local food banks, to furloughed employees, to people in need. Our work is necessary to ensure that people can be fed.”
Jessie has also been inspired by the determination of her team and is prioritizing their needs as they continue to uphold Green City Growers’ mission. “Our staff are troopers. There’s a sense of resilience and a desire to ensure that we can keep doing this for everybody involved. They want to continue growing food for people and we’re going to provide a safe place for them to do so.”
Helping Others Cross the Finish Line
As a third-generation racecar driver, Angel Benitez inherited his father’s and his grandfather’s fearlessness, both on and off the racetrack. Angel arrived in the US from Venezuela as a teenager, bringing with him that same distinct ambition. “I was there to follow a dream.” He began spending his time in a rented kitchen space, developing a second passion for cooking into something he could share with others. In 2015, Angel opened the doors of Burbowl, a casual, sit-down burger restaurant in Miami, Florida. As seats quickly filled, Angel opened a second and third location, employing over 30 individuals across all locations. With a growing team, Angel values his role as a mentor. “You’re not just a manager, you’re a leader, and you want to teach them how to lead as well. You don’t know what people are capable of until you give them the opportunity to achieve something.”
An Unforeseen Fork in the Road
Yet in March 2020, Angel met an unprecedented obstacle that would force him to rethink every aspect of his business. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses nationwide to temporarily close their doors, Angel found himself struggling to maintain business revenue and the 30 employees he so deeply values. “Our employees’ hours have been reduced because sales have plummeted. We are just trying to survive and give our employees as much time as we can for them to have an income.”
Constantly thinking ahead, Angel began pivoting his business model while maintaining his vision and support for the community. “We’re offering promotions, delivery, pick-up, even groceries. We want to maintain the quality of our food even when lowering the price. We want to make sure our food is affordable for everybody during these times.” Angel also received a loan deferment through Accion’s COVID-19 Relief Program. “It will ease some of the pressure that we’re having right now to know we don’t have to make this payment today and it will give us time to reorganize ourselves as things change.”
Crossing Bridges Together
Now working harder than ever, Angel spends his time brainstorming new ways to generate revenue in a time of complete uncertainty. “You have to be creative. Whatever you do now, you’re doing it for the first time, because nothing like this has happened before.” He feels hopeful that this time will elevate recognition of the small business community. “I think people are starting to understand that small businesses are the core of this country. We are the workforce.” Angel also continues to prioritize leading his team, emphasizing to them the urgent importance of unity. “We’re all in this together. We have to support each other and get out of this stronger than ever. But we have to pass through this first.”
Returning to Her Roots
With a long-time passion for both baking and Boston, Heather Yunger wanted to create cookies that were more than just delicious sweets, but a representation of her childhood memories of baking and of her love for the city of her roots. She did exactly that when she founded Top Shelf Cookies, a cookie company with Boston-inspired names, such as “Green Monster Mint.” Between her unique recipes and outgoing personality, Heather soon gained a large following of customers, particularly through farmers’ markets and other public events where she was able to share her products and connect with the community.
Rethinking a Business
in March 2020, Heather suffered a tremendous and unforeseen loss. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced public event cancellations and college campuses to close, Heather saw her primary source of income abruptly fall apart. “80% of our projected revenue in March and April was cancelled within 6 hours. I can’t even explain the feeling.” Heather knew that to endure the months ahead, she needed to rethink her entire business model. Fortunately, she had recently received a $10,000 business grant to invest in her business from winning the 2019 Samuel Adams pitch room competition. The pitch room is part of the Brewing the American Dream Program – a partnership between Samuel Adams and Accion that makes resources, including capital and coaching, available to small business owners running food businesses. “I’ve been investing it all into my online channel to make that my regular revenue source and that’s what saving me.” Building a stronger online presence has enabled Heather to grow her business both for the present and future. “There’s going to be a lot of staying power out of this.”
Showing Support Safely
One personal challenge for Heather is adapting her outgoing personality to a world of social distancing. “I love being out at farmers’ markets and talking to people. It’s a great way to build that connection with customers, so I’m really struggling.” However, she’s realized that her community has found new ways to show their support. “As small business owners, we’re being asked a huge sacrifice and I think people are recognizing that. We all feel this overwhelming love from our communities right now. It’s taking me so long to process online orders because people have written me such nice notes and I want to respond to each one.”
Heather also feels the unconditional support from the network of small business owners she is a part of. “We’re in a shared kitchen with other bakers and we’re already talking about how we can help each other out at the end of this so that no one is taking on extra costs. That way we’re all stronger together.” For a particularly resilient group of individuals, Heather explained that this time period proves to be no exception. “We’re used to reacting quickly. It’s in our nature. We’re always trying to figure out what the next step is. It makes me proud to be part of this community.”
Cooking to Empower
With a profound love for cooking, Yolfer Quintero began working various jobs in the food industry, both in his home country of Venezuela and when he came to the United States. After some time, he began to realize that the environment of working for others was not always ideal. “I saw how people could be overworked and underpaid. I needed to start my own business because I couldn’t keep working like that.” The decision came from a desire to not only empower himself, but others in similar predicaments. “I wanted to encourage those who don’t always have the opportunity to use their voice.” In 2016, Yolfer and his two siblings founded Pabade Bakery, a wholesale pastry company, growing their business one online order at a time, until their popularity enabled them to open a café.
An Unexpected Setback
Yolfer applied for a loan from Accion, which enabled him to purchase coffee equipment and have a financial cushion for the future. The shop quickly filled with customers, and Yolfer began preparing to move from his shared kitchen space into his own facility. However in March 2020, Yolfer faced an unprecedented challenge that cut his plan short as businesses nationwide were ordered to close their doors to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. “Our business slowed down by 80% or more. We closed the shop and our wholesale is working at 20% capacity. We usually have 20 wholesale accounts – now we have two.” In addition to struggling to provide for his own livelihood, Yolfer must also figure out how to continue providing for others. “We’re trying to keep our employee and give him as many hours as we can because he has expenses too.”
Practicing Resilience and Lending Support
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, Yolfer and his siblings are learning to adapt, offering promotional items like assorted pastry boxes available for delivery. “The biggest challenge for us now is to continue finding new ways to generate revenue.” The financial cushion from their Accion loan could not have come at a more urgent time. “We’re now using that money to pay the rent and have a salary for us and our employee.”
For Yolfer, the best part of business ownership is connecting with and helping other business owners. Through a local business program, Yolfer has joined a network of entrepreneurs, support that is particularly invaluable during this time. “We’re all in contact and we all try to help each other as much as we can.” Right now, Yolfer is continuing to focus on balancing necessary expenses with the uncertainty ahead. “I know it will be a while for things to resume to the way they were. But one thing that doesn’t stop is the rent.” He also hopes to one day achieve his initial goals. “My hope is that I’m still able to produce in my own kitchen. But I know everything takes time and I’ve learned to be patient.”