Hiring a new business development director who’s based in Grand Rapids is part of Michigan Women Forward’s goal to build a larger West Michigan market presence for business lending and support for female-owned businesses and entrepreneurs of color.
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Ana Jose joined Detroit-based Michigan Women Forward last month from the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where she served as program manager and worked to build partnerships across the community to support Hispanic entrepreneurs.
In the newly created role at Michigan Women Forward, Jose now leads entrepreneurship programs and business development efforts while building partnerships to support female entrepreneurs in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Detroit and other markets. That will largely involve working with female and other business owners on securing microloans through a Michigan Women Forward lending program, which the organization hopes to significantly expand under a pending federal designation.
Jose saw the position as an “opportunity for me to do even more than what I have already done” to support entrepreneurs. Her goal is to “really help all our communities, communities of color, and all communities (that need) funding,” she said.
“I want to make sure they understand and see us as a go-to organization when they are trying to start their business,” Jose said. “We want to make sure they know exactly what they need to do in order for them to grow in their business and we want to make sure that they have capital.”
Expanding access to capital
The ability to access capital is often cited by women business owners and entrepreneurs of color as a barrier, “and we need to change that,” Jose said.
Michigan Women Forward seeks to address the issue through a microloan program started six years ago that provides small business loans of $2,500 to $50,000. The organization receives about $750,000 annually from the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide microloans, said President and CEO Carolyn Cassin.
Michigan Women Forward — with offices in Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids — extended the microloan program nearly three years ago to West Michigan where other microlenders operate. However, Cassin said “it’s been a slow start” in the region.
“We’ve learned so much in the last six years about how to invest in women of color and how you ensure that they become successful and that their businesses thrive, and we’ve gotten good at that. We want to expand that to West Michigan,” she said.
The organization has provided 58 loans totaling about $1.6 million this year.
Michigan Women Forward also has an application pending with the U.S. Department of Treasury for designation as a Community Development Financial Institution, or CDFI.
Securing the federal designation would make the organization eligible for funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s CDFI Fund. That would give Michigan Women Forward a much larger lending capacity with an ability to provide loans of $100,000 to $250,000 and allow expansion in “communities such as Grand Rapids where we’ve made the occasional loan, as opposed to having a full-time presence there, which we now have,” Cassin said.
Cassin describes Jose as the “perfect leader” for Michigan Women Forward’s outreach in the region for lending and technical assistance to support entrepreneurs, particularly to “communities that are still underserved.”
“Ana is going to give us the knowledge and the experience of communities of color in those communities and really help us identify diverse entrepreneurs so that we can do in West Michigan what we’ve become — an essential provider of services to women, especially minority women entrepreneurs — in Southeast Michigan,” Cassin said. “This is really a very, very important time to us. There are still many people who need investment in communities in West Michigan.”
The Department of Treasury is scheduled to review Michigan Women Forward’s CDFI application in January, Cassin said. Through the federal designation, and subsequently pursuing partnerships with business lenders, Michigan Women Forward hopes to build a $10 million loan fund over the next few years that will primarily target women entrepreneurs of color, she said.
Michigan Women Forward would initially target larger loans at entrepreneurs in the southwestern half of the Lower Peninsula for the first couple of years, “and after that begin to really expand up,” Cassin said.