Micro-lender helps the 'un-bankable'

March 25, 2010 3:38:21 PM PDT
Layoffs are inspiring more people to start their own businesses, but getting a bank to invest can be nearly impossible. However, some cash from the stimulus fund is making money a little easier to come by.

Tresnita Ivy has been driving a big rig for the past nine years.

"I've hauled electronic equipment. I've hauled perishable foods. I've done scrap metals. So, I pretty much can do anything," said Ivy, owner, Pure Attitude Logistics.

Recently, she purchased her own truck to go into business for herself. But shortly after, orders slowed down. She needed $7000 to stay afloat.

"Accion helped me get through the slow period to be able to keep my truck, first of all, and to be able to keep going," said Ivy.

Accion, accionchicago.org, is a micro-lender based in the Pilsen neighborhood that makes loans for as little as $200 to as much as $25,000 to people who usually wouldn't qualify through a bank.

"Primarily, we work with low to moderate income individuals and neighborhoods as well. Folks who are un-bankable. So for lack of credit history or poor credit or lack of business experience," said Mary Fran Riley, Accion.

The non-profit recently got an influx of cash --- $800,000 from a federal stimulus grant and $750,000 from the city of Chicago,proceeds from the lease of the skyway. The group hopes this money will help create jobs.

"For every loan that we make, we create an average of 3.4 jobs. So people employ their family members. They employ somebody in the community," said Riley.

"I am not the most viable candidate because I didn't have any type of business credit," said Mary Mertens, owner, Ticche $ Bea.

Mertens plans to employ eight people soon. Her company, Ticche and Bea makes specialty pillows and baby bedding. She borrowed nearly $8,000 to cover the cost of a booth at a fair in Daley Plaza. Sales soared, marking a turning point for her business. In May, Mertens will be opening a permanent kiosk in Navy Pier.

"With just a little bit of money, you're able to grow. You're able to make more money, pay more people. It kind of snowballs," said Mertens.

At around 13-percent, the interest rates on Accion's loans are a little higher than a bank's but less than a credit card. Unlike banks, they allow borrowers to put up the non-traditional collateral like a personal car or restaurant cooler.