No-Interest Loan Program for Women Accelerates Business Growth
By Jane Applegate
June 29, 2014
By Jane Applegate, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Plum Alley
From pigs in blankets to a paparazzi-proof visors, New York-area women are fueling their companies with $5,000, no-interest loans, from the Women’s Enterprise Action Loan Fund. Almost too good to be true, the loans have one requirement—that recipients be open to long-term mentoring by experienced business people like Vicki Weiner, the woman who established the program four years ago.
To date, the fund, administered by the Thypin Oltchick Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship @ FEGS, has made 18 loans worth about $100,000. Only one woman failed to repay her loan, 17 are still in the program and three women have received a second round of $5,000 loans at a 3.2 percent interest.
“When Vicki approached us, she was winding down her business and was looking for a way to give back to women,” said Fabianne Gershon, director of the Institute. “She was interested in starting a loan fund. These no-interest loans falls into a new category of micro-financing that has helped our clients get to the next level of success in their business.”
“At this stage, our goal is to help 100 women,” said Weiner, who owned an investor relations firm for many years. She said she was inspired to establish the loan fund, a 501(c)3, non-profit organization, funded by private donors, after working as a volunteer helping former Wall Street executives find new career paths.
In 2009, during the Great Recession, Weiner said she realized the people she was counseling had no chance of finding new jobs in the financial sector. So, starting a small business was an option, but they needed capital. Weiner said she realized that she was an effective mentor, so she decided to set up the loan fund and devote her time to working with women business owners full-time. Contributors can receive a tax-deduction for their donations.
“The women in the program are so fabulous,” said Weiner. “I’m having more fun working with them than anything else I’ve done.”
Grace Tappin, founder of Move with Grace, used her first $5,000 loan to add a juice bar to her busy Clinton Hill yoga and Pilates studio. Tappin opened her studio in 2007, offering the community a variety of classes and wellness information for all ages.
The new juice bar immediately boosted revenues, according to Tappin, adding that even if people don’t sign up for classes, many stop in just to buy juice. Now, she’s deployed a second, low-interest loan to further expand the studio’s juice bar and add wellness-inspired merchandise and products to the mix.
“I’m trying to stand out and push my vision forward,” said Tappin, who has been a dancer all her life.
“The question to ask is– how will the (loan) money make you more money.”
In addition to the money, Tappin said she appreciates the “wonderful advice” provided by Weiner and her team of mentors.
To date, the loan program has funded a variety of women-owned companies including a photography studio, a cleaning business, a jewelry designer, gourmet ice pops, two bakeries and a leather bag designer. Several WEALF “family” members have also generated significant media buzz.
Gingie McLeod, founder of Dindi Design, was recently featured in the Hollywood Reporter and other publications when Vanessa Stiviano, girlfriend of the Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling, was photographed wearing the Paparazzivisor, which blocks the wearer’s face. “Before Stiviano was photographed wearing our visor, our sales were sparse,” she told the press. “Now, they’re selling more than a 100 a day.” (You can buy one at www.saintchic.com).
Missy Koo and Stacey Cole, founders of Brooklyn Piggies, were highlighted in Zagat’s recent article about the 8 ‘must-try’ hot dogs for summer in New York City. The company, which sells their signature mini-sausages wrapped in puff pastry at on Sunday’s at Smorgasburg in the Brooklyn Bridge Park, now has a permanent location at 195 Avenue A in the East Village. The owners used their loan to buy more equipment and supplies.
A recent loan recipient is Nadira El Khang, founder of Nadira Bags. She makes handcrafted leather laptop sleeves, belts, purses and duffel bags, among other creations. Growing up in Marrakech, Nadira learned her craft while working in her father’s leather store. A recent accounting graduate of LaGuardia College, she is focused on growing her business. You can check out her collection at: www.etsy.com/shop/nadirabag.
Women can apply for a no-interest, $5,000 loan at any time. To apply for a loan or to contribute to WEALF, contact Vicki Weiner: firstname.lastname@example.org.