A $90,000 grant from the Wege Foundation will back the work of Northern Initiatives, a federally designated community development financial institution (CDFI) that lends to small businesses that may otherwise lack access to credit and capital.
The funding for $30,000 annually over three years will go to add staff at Northern Initiatives to support small business owners in the Grand Rapids area, particularly entrepreneurs of color. As well, the Marquette-based Northern Initiatives will use the funding to build out internal systems to report on and help clients build their credit scores.
“One of the things that we have heard from our partners is that they wish we could help our customers build their credit scores. Right now, we’re simply not set up to be able to do that, so part of what we’re doing is integrating our technology systems,” Northern Initiatives President Elissa Sangalli told MiBiz.
Some borrowers either lack or have a difficult credit history, and “us being able to report on their good loan payments would actually help them,” Sangalli said.
The Wege Foundation funding also will help Northern Initiatives to track and report to banks and other funders the effect that its loans have toward meeting the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. These goals include zero hunger, gender equality, affordable and clean energy, and reduced inequalities, “so people can think about investing in those kinds of opportunities,” Sangalli said.
“This is more flexible funding that really allows us to solve some unique challenges that we have, and it will help us to grow our impact on West Michigan and in the state of Michigan overall,” she said.
Northern Initiatives last year provided 92 loans to small businesses totaling $7.2 million. The organization is presently seeking to hire a new business coach.
“The Grand Rapids region is seeing a nice boost from Northern Initiatives and its efforts to help underserved communities,” James Logan, president and CEO of the Wege Foundation, said in a statement. “Their approach to lending — which takes into account the well-being of generations — has been a plus not only to their customers but to everyone who gets to know these businesses.”
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