Finding Opportunity at OFN's Small Business Finance Forum

June 27, 2017

by Yanki Tshering

The sixth annual Small Business Finance Forum, hosted by Opportunity Finance Network, was the biggest yet with 202 CDFI practitioners from 40 states, 7 foundations, 33 banks, and 12 government representatives in attendance. OFN's new President and CEO – development industry luminary Lisa Mensah – kicked things off with her welcoming remarks, talking about her immigrant heritage and sharing some of her experiences as a child in her OFN President Lisa Mensahfather's native Ghana, and inspiring us with her passion for small business which she called "The absolute epic story of hope, challenge, and, hopefully, success."  

BCNA was there in force at this year's forum. Joining me were BCNA's Director of Lending Leonid Ostrovsky; Manager of Development & Communications Lauren Danzig; Manager of Finance Asisat Adebola; and Portfolio Manager Jessica Martin.

We were particularly honored to have been selected by Wells Fargo as one of 13 awardees for their Diverse Community Capital (DCC) Program. To date, forty one CDFIs have been selected from all over the United States to benefit from this program. Awardees receive grant capital to build financial, operational, and human capacity to increase their lending; debt capital to build lending capacity; and also social capital for activities such as mentorship, peer learning, and work groups to build effective support networks and social infrastructure.

Highlights of the 2-day Forum included the opening conversation, "Serving Entrepreneurs of Color." Connie Evans, CEO of AEO, and Joyce Klein, Director of the Aspen Institute's Microenterprise Fund for Innovation, Effectiveness, Learning and Dissemination, shared some findings from recent reports they've authored: AEO's The Tapestry of Black Business Ownership In America: Untapped Opportunities for Success, and the Aspen Institute's Bridging The Divide: How Business Ownership Can Help Close the Racial Wealth Gap with their fellow panelists and audience.

We also took away valuable feedbackfrom Learnings from the Diverse Community Capital Program, a terrific interactive session that included identifying suitable technology to streamline the underwriting and portfolio management process, as well from Cutting through the Noise: Sharing our Value Proposition through Digital Marketing.

In her inspiring lunchtime keynote, Mae Whiterside, President and CEO of Mae WhitersideCKL Engineers, told of growing up homeless, the challenges of starting and growing her business, and how getting a loan from a CDFI in Chicago helped to turn CKL Engineers into a successful business.

Another highlight was SBA's Community Advantage Pilot Loan Program and the Secondary Market for Mission-based Lenders, led by Manny Hildago, Director of the SBA's Office of Economic Opportunity, who was joined by Director of the SBA Microloan Program Dan Upham; and SBA Deputy Chief Christopher. Last year, BCNA had the distinction of having made the second highest number of loans with SBA funds in the U.S. so we are looking forward to being certified as a Community Advantage Lender and increasing the size of our loans.

And, finally, it was impressive and instructive to hear the awardees of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Financing Initiative discuss the importance of strategic partnerships as well as the strategies that enabled them increase small business financing.

The feeling of camaraderie was apparent throughout the symposium but was particularly palpable during the CDFI Women's Network event.  Many women professed their eagerness to mentor other women and to find ways to inspire and encourage other women to join - and succeed in - the CDFI sector. We all agreed that we were looking forward to continuing this, and the many other conversations inspired by the event, at the 2017 OFN Conference in Washington in September.

Awardees Wells Fargo's Diverse Community Capital (DCC)Program

Tags: CDFI Fund

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