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LiftFund keeps Coastal Bend small businesses above water

Housed inside Del Mar College Small Business Development Center, the LiftFund team of Velma Flores (left) and Laura Leal Estrada (right), work hand in hand with the center’s Monica Benavides to provide education, resources, and alternative funding for local business entrepreneurs. Photo by Jane Kathleen Gregorio

One year after Hurricane Harvey, some small-business owners are still reeling from the effects of the Category 4 storm that hit the Coastal Bend on Aug. 25, 2017. Already active in the area as the nation’s largest nonprofit small-business lender, LiftFund was able to help small businesses with rebuilding, an effort that continues today.

“Recovery is still not over in Rockport, Port Aransas, Aransas Pass, Ingleside, or Refugio,” said Laura Leal Estrada, LiftFund’s Coastal Bend market manager. “Some people are still living in trailers because their homes are not repaired, yet trying to keep their community strong while making ends meet. The challenges are enormous. ”

Formerly known as Accion Texas, LiftFund was founded in 1994 in San Antonio as a nonprofit organization committed to supporting business owners.

“We have been supporting small businesses for over 20 years,” said Martha Zurita, vice president of communications. “We are always seeking additional opportunities to help them overcome challenges, including recovering after natural disasters.”

In the Coastal Bend, over $1.6 million in relief loans have been issued to support more than 80 small-business owners in the recovery process. These businesses created 80 full-time jobs and retained another 195 full-time jobs.

LiftFund’s services go beyond disaster recovery. It also provides resources and financial support for those who are unable to meet the requirements of a traditional bank loan. Since 2004, LiftFund has provided more than $14.3 million in capital to nearly 1,000 entrepreneurs in the local area.

“We are more than a small-business lender,” Zurita said. “We are change agents providing our clients with knowledge, guidance, and capital to grow their businesses and our community.”

Nationally, LiftFund’s more than 100 employees serve 13 states: Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee. It has provided more than $280 million in capital to more than 20,000 business owners since its inception.

“We’re not a last-chance lender, but, sometimes, we’re the first chance a borrower will have to start and grow their business with a loan,” Estrada said. “LiftFund is a certified SBA lender. Sometimes, we can partner with banks so they don’t have to take on the full portfolio. It’s a wonderful give-and-take opportunity.”

In 2004, the city of Corpus Christi and LiftFund partnered in an interest buy-down program, the first of its kind, in which small-business owners could obtain startup or working capital at a 5.5-percent interest rate. Once a borrower receives a loan, the company agrees to hire at least one full-time employee within two years.

“It’s part of the borrower’s commitment to give back to the community,” Estrada continued.

Applicants can apply online, over the phone, or in person at the LiftFund office located inside Del Mar College Center for Economic Development, another nonprofit dedicated to promoting the growth of small businesses. The center provides free or low-cost workshops as well as no-cost and confidential advising from business experts.

Monica Benavides, program coordinator for SBDC, has worked alongside LiftFund for many years.

“They’re a great addition for our clients as resource partners for us,” Benavides said. “When traditional lending is not available, our clients have access to alternative lending through LiftFund to help them with loan solutions. They are always open to seeing our clients anytime.”

Velma Flores, lending assistant for LiftFund, has been with the company since 2012 and has seen it grow over the past six years. Hurricane Harvey put the nonprofit in the spotlight.

“When I started at this company, it was still Accion Texas and not very well known,” Flores said. “Now, many people recognize LiftFund as one of the main organizations helping businesses during the disaster.”

For Estrada, helping those in need, especially those who survived Hurricane Harvey, is one of the enriching experiences of working at LiftFund.

“I find myself in tears sometimes,” she told Corpus Christi Business News. “These people are survivors and passionate about the community coming back.”

One client, who lost his roof to a tree, discovered he did not have the right insurance to cover repairs.

“People pulled together, including all the chamber presidents in the community,” Estrada said. “Through this collaboration, everyone worked together to help make everyone else whole. And, with LiftFund, we have the opportunity to help through loans. It’s amazing to be a part of this.”

LiftFund’s goal is to level the financial playing field in entrepreneurship by ensuring every entrepreneur has access to the financial support needed to start or grow their business and to serve more entrepreneurs in the community.

“We are proud to contribute to the local economy by empowering business owners as they grow their businesses and contribute to local job creation,” Zurita said.

LiftFund is located at 3209 S. Staples, Room 146, inside Del Mar College Center for Economic Development. For more information, call (361) 238-2293 or (888) 215-2373. You can also visit online at corpuschristi.liftfund.com.

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