When minorities are unable to secure traditional business loans, they need not give up their dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. The Economic Equity Fund, a loan program administered through Virginia Community Capital (VCC), is geared toward minorities, specifically those who are women, Black, Indigenous, or people of color.
“It’s not every women-owned business. It’s not every minority-owned business,” said Ginnele Shonyo, an Economic Equity loan officer for VCC. “It’s the women-owned and the minority-owned businesses that can’t receive traditional lending on the traditional market for whatever challenges those may be.”
The fund is at $10 million, and the loans range from $50,000 to $1 million. Shonyo said 36 businesses were awarded loans last year, and she is on track this year to surpass that number. Almost as important as money are the technical and other support assistance the program offers.
“The grant money that we received also gives us the ability to provide financial advice assistance, business plan writing, all types of technical assistance to business owners,” she said.
That aspect helps more people than do the loans, she said. In the past two weeks, she alone has helped more than 20 people with technical assistance. That includes people who aren’t ready for loans now, so she assists with that.
Virginia Community Capital is eligible to assist with the Economic Equity Fund because it is a Community Development Financial Institution.
“It is extremely vital,” Shonyo said of the fund. “We’ve got individuals who are really shifting where they are going because of the pandemic now that they are starting their own businesses.”
Shonyo has been in the banking industry for more than 20 years, and often advocates for the underdog. She said banking is trying to return to its roots.
“Banking turned cutthroat there for a period of time, and it was all about the sales,” she said.
It used to be about service, education, and growing with clients by building relationships.
“I think the banks are finally realizing that we lost sight of that, and we’re getting back to it,” Shonyo said.
She has heard from a number of business owners who wished they knew about this program when they started on their journey. That brings up a pet peeve of Shonyo’s, particularly with the technical assistance and advice.
“This information is free, and it shouldn’t be something that’s kept secret,” she said. “It should be something that’s put out there.”
In the past two years, small businesses were hit especially hard.
“We’ve realized in this pandemic, the importance of the small business community and the impact it has on our overall economy,” Shonyo said. “That’s the majority of our neighbors.”
She likes to think many businesses would have fared better if they had more knowledge prior to the pandemic.
“They would have been taught the different tools about how to plan for something like this, maybe not so to necessarily prevent it, but better weather it,” she said.
Having that advice and those tools before they are needed is key.
“That way, when the need arises, you’re there,” she said. “We’ve seen in the last year how much of an impact it can have on the stability of our small business owners.”