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Southern Small Businesses and Nonprofits Impacted by Covid Can Now Apply for Support from Multi-Million Dollar Fund

Small businesses and nonprofits across 15 southern states can now get low-interest loans of up to $100,000 and free business support from the Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund as they work to rebuild from the pandemic

April 27, 2021 – Small business owners and nonprofits across the South can begin applying today for very low interest loans of up to $100,000 and free business support through the Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund—a new program created by a diverse group of community lenders aimed at helping small businesses and nonprofits navigate and rebuild from the Covid-19 health and economic crisis. 

The SOAR Fund is launching with more than $50 million in initial commitments —provided by philanthropic, private and corporate investors—and aims to eventually lend $150 million or more to small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 50 employees in 15 southern and southeastern states. The loans are designed to reach the smallest of small businesses and those that have been historically underbanked, including those in rural areas and those owned by women, people of color, and immigrants. These businesses often struggle to access capital from traditional sources but are critical to providing jobs and supporting economic recovery in communities across the South.

The Fund works with and through local Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which have been serving the types of un-and underinvested businesses the SOAR Fund aims to help for decades.

“The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated an already uneven recovery from the Great Recession. Southern states had slower economic growth, lower labor force participation, and higher unemployment than the rest of the country, partially driven by the historic lack of corporate and philanthropic investment in the region,” said George Ashton, managing director at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which manages the Fund. “The SOAR Fund will tackle these issues head-on by addressing structural barriers to economic opportunity by providing capital to Southern small businesses and nonprofits that need it now.”

Eligible applicants will be matched with a participating lender that will assist the business owner with the application and provide advisory support. Applicants will be able to sign up online and get matched to a lender in less than five minutes. 

“We encourage all small businesses and nonprofits that have been impacted by the Covid pandemic and need a hand in rebuilding to apply now,” said Patrick Davis, Vice President of Program Strategy and Development at Community Reinvestment Fund, USA, which is hosting the Fund’s online platform. “This is affordable capital that can help small business owners and nonprofits hang on and rebuild, which is vitally important to all of us. Nonprofits provide crucial services and support to our communities and small businesses create jobs and provide valuable economic activity. Strong southern small businesses and nonprofits will lead to a strong economic recovery for southern communities.”

Thirteen CDFIs are originating loans purchased by the Fund, including Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE), Accion Opportunity Fund, Ascendus, BCL of Texas, Black Business Investment Fund, Communities Unlimited, LiftFund, NCIFund, NDC’s Community Investment Loan Fund, Pathway Lending, People Fund, Southern Bancorp Community Partners, and TruFund Financial Services. As a collaborative, these lenders have full reach across the region, have served on the front lines of the economic crisis and have decades of experience providing high-touch lending and advisory services to small businesses and nonprofit organizations. The CDFIs are supported by leading technical assistance and business support organizations including Winrock International, LISC’s local offices and national rural program, and Small Business Majority, which will help with outreach, education, and hands-on business advisory services. Calvert Impact Capital is arranging and LISC Fund Management is managing the Fund.

The SOAR Fund covers: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Catalytic initial grants and loans have been provided by Capital One, Ceniarth, the Jacksonville, Florida-based Chartrand Family, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, F.B. Heron Foundation, Fidelity Charitable with support from CapShift, the Grove Foundation, the Heifer Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, Mercy Investment Services, Microsoft, the Ms. Foundation for Women, North Berkeley Wealth Management clients, Winrock International, and Woodforest National Bank.

“To ensure an equitable recovery across the south driven by the region’s entrepreneurs, we need all hands on deck,” said Caroline Yarborough at Calvert Impact Capital. “We are grateful to all of the community lenders, corporations, banks, foundations, and other investors who have come together to ensure that the south’s small businesses have access to flexible, affordable capital so they can continue driving economic opportunity and resiliency in their communities.” 

For more information and to apply, visit: www.TheSoarFund.org.  

Quotes from CDFI Participants:

“ACE Is thrilled to be a part of the Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund. As the only Georgia-based CDFI selected to participate, we are looking forward to new customer and funder relationships in addition to more opportunities to collaborate statewide. We’re also excited about the program’s attractive terms for our small businesses and the ability to reach more rural businesses across Georgia,” said Grace Fricks, President and CEO of Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE). 

“We know that building back from the pandemic will take a long time, but small businesses have always been a driving force behind economic recovery. That is why it’s imperative to build a pathway for their survival, especially those left behind by federal relief efforts. The SOAR Fund is giving the South’s smallest businesses and nonprofits the resources to rebuild better. When we invest in our communities in this way, we all benefit,” said Luz Urrutia, CEO of Accion Opportunity Fund.

“At Ascendus, we believe in the power of ‘Up’, which means we understand that a small business is more than just a way to make money.  It’s a way to move up, improve your life, care for your family, and contribute to your community.  The SOAR program is an important step towards achieving our vision of financial ascension for all,” said Paul Quintero, CEO of Ascendus, Inc.

“At Communities Unlimited, we know how to get needed capital into the hands of entrepreneurs of color and rural small business owners in the South. It requires trusting relationships, intensive technical assistance and, well, capital to lend,” said Ines Polonius, CEO of Communities Unlimited.We are excited to be among the 13 CDFIs chosen to serve as community lenders for the Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund. SOAR will help us reach more entrepreneurs in order to help them pivot, recover and rebuild from Covid-19. In the end, our joint goal is to help entrepreneurs thrive and build wealth, especially in areas of persistent poverty.”

“The pandemic has intensified the systematic inequalities that have historically impacted women, black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC),” said Janie Barrera, President and CEO of LiftFund. “Through the SOAR Fund partnership, we are proud to collaborate with other financial institutions to collectively reduce barriers for diverse entrepreneurs, and work toward a just and equitable economy where everyone has an opportunity to prosper.”

“We are thrilled to participate in the SOAR initiative, which aligns well with our long-held mission to provide access to capital in under-served communities,” said Daniel Marsh, President and CEO of the National Development Council (NDC). “As a small business lender and provider of PPP loans, we know how challenging it can be to reach communities of color, but our track record shows it can be done. And SOAR is another significant pathway to helping small businesses get back on their feet and thriving again.” 

“NCIFund will use SOAR to reach more entrepreneurs of color and women and underserved communities across Central Appalachia and the Southeast,” says Marten Jenkins, NCIFund CEO. “The combination of lower interest rates and flexible terms is the right formula for businesses that struggle to get the capital they need to grow and create jobs.”  

“Pathway is excited to be a participating lender in the SOAR Fund. We believe this new source of capital for small businesses will be critical to helping accelerate recovery and will allow these businesses to accelerate growth and increase employment in the communities we serve,” said Clint Gwin, President and CEO of Pathway Lending. 

“We at PeopleFund are proud of joining forces with Calvert Impact Capital, CRF and many other CDFIs across the Sun Belt to support small businesses that don’t have access to capital from mainstream financial institutions. Underserved communities have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. This kind of initiative brings together much needed resources to help small business owners position their businesses in the best possible way for the recovery ahead,” said Gustavo Lasala, President & CEO of PeopleFund.

“TruFund is proud to be a member of the SOAR Fund Partnership,” said James H. Bason, President and CEO of TruFund Financial Services, a participating CDFI. “We are committed to rebuilding a stronger more resilient small business ecosystem particularly in communities that have suffered from the lack of access to affordable capital and whose vulnerabilities are now exacerbated by Covid-19 and the related economic impact.”

Quotes from SOAR Supporters:

“By investing in the Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund, we are enabling recovery and economic stability to historically under-served businesses and communities through a robust network of CDFI partners to deliver targeted business support services,” said Theresa Bedeau, Community Impact & Investment at Capital One. “Capital One is proud to support SOAR as its entrepreneurs build their businesses & nonprofits, establish financial well-being and secure their futures.”  

“JPMorgan Chase is proud to support the SOAR Fund to help underserved small business owners facing historic challenges access the capital they need to keep their doors open,” said Erin Robert, Head of Impact Finance at JPMorgan Chase. “This fund will provide much-needed support to minority and women entrepreneurs across the south, including in hard-hit rural areas, and support a more inclusive and equitable economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“The Sisters of Mercy have been longtime supporters of community development financial institutions,” said Sarah B. Smith, Director of Mercy Partnership Fund, the global community investing program of Mercy Investment Services. “Through the SOAR Fund, we are pleased to be able to help increase support of their critical work to address the post-Covid recovery credit needs of small businesses and nonprofits in the South, where the Sisters of Mercy have a long history of living and ministering.”

“The Ms. Foundation for Women is proud to be in partnership with the SOAR Fund. We believe in a just and safe world where power and possibility are not limited by gender, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or age,” said Teresa Younger, President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women. “This initiative furthers our Southern Grantmaking Strategy and will provide much needed support for those communities that continue to be underserved.”

“More than a year into this crisis, 1 in 4 small businesses are still facing closure without additional assistance. To prevent a wave of closures, small businesses need access to affordable and responsible capital. But, due to gaps in available capital and a system designed to naturally favor well-connected businesses, many of the most vulnerable small businesses across the South are at risk of being left behind,” said Xiomara Peña, Vice President, Engagement, for Small Business Majority. “We’re thrilled the SOAR Fund is launching today to bridge this divide and provide small businesses in southern states with the capital they need to ensure they’re on a path to recovery.”

“We are excited to support the SOAR Fund through our investment in the fund and the provision of technical assistance to under-served communities and small businesses in the South. These businesses have so much potential to contribute to our nation’s economic recovery and to their communities,” said Patricia McCall, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Global Strategy at Winrock International. “SOAR was created by community lenders for community-based businesses and institutions. We look forward to identifying and welcoming new donors to deliver critical technical assistance to help entrepreneurs and nonprofits create jobs, expand services and drive growth in a traditionally underbanked part of the country.”

“Woodforest proudly stands with CDFIs and others to invest in the SOAR Fund to help aid small businesses and nonprofits in these southern and southeastern states. Small businesses are the heart of our communities, and it’s critical to support them, especially those businesses often underserved that have been hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Doug Schaeffer, Executive Vice President, CRA Executive Director, Woodforest National Bank.

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About the SOAR Fund

The Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund (SOAR) provides access to flexible, affordable capital and free business support services to small businesses and nonprofits through trusted community-based organizations. These organizations have decades of experience supporting historically under-resourced small businesses, including those in low-income and rural communities and owned by women and people of color. 

SOAR is a collaborative partnership of local and national community finance organizations created to address the needs of historically disenfranchised communities as they navigate and rebuild from the Covid-19 crisis. SOAR includes leaders from across sectors including local community lenders, national and state-based nonprofit organizations, corporations, philanthropic donors, and investors – all who are passionate about an equitable recovery across the region.