Michigan Women Forward Helping Entrepreneurs Bridge Capital Gaps

Be it credit scores, access to capital, or having the collateral in place to pursue grants or funding, the success of many entrepreneurial ventures comes down to finances.

For historically underserved entrepreneurs, the challenge is much greater in overcoming a system that often deems them “unbankable.”

That’s where New Economy Initiative (NEI) grantee Michigan Women Forward steps in. With many entrepreneurial ventures starting out as a side project, startup business owners often have to hold down full-time endeavors to support their families and need additional capital to sustain their business until it’s fully developed to stand on its own.

Or they need to take the leap of faith and walk away from their other employment to focus on their startup. Their business success is obviously critical to their family, neighborhood, and city.

“Entrepreneurs want to have businesses but may not have access to capital because the collateral doesn’t appraise or others don’t see the value in the investments that need to be made,” says Alexis Dishman, Chief Lending Officer for Michigan Women Forward.

NEI’s grant to Michigan Women Forward supports its Women’s Entrepreneurial Initiative, which operates as a microlender and technical assistance provider in Detroit and Wayne County. It provides affordable microloans, ranging from $2,000 to $50,000, to women and entrepreneurs of color who are considered “unbankable” and excluded from traditional banking institutions.

“We’re not held accountable the same way as a bank. We have the ability to renegotiate terms and be more flexible with the entrepreneurs, which allows us to take more risk at times,” says Dishman, who worked previously in commercial banking and lending.

The initiative also helps borrowers improve their credit scores through repayment since Michigan Women Forward is one of the few microlenders in Michigan that reports payments to the credit bureaus, which helps increase access to capital over time as credit scores increase.

“One of the gaps that we see that continuously creates a barrier for our entrepreneurs is they’re having adequate financials and projections to support loan applications,”says Dishman.

Providing High-Impact, Culturally Inclusive Programming

In addition, the Michigan Women Forward Entrepreneurial Initiative team can provide or connect women entrepreneurs to technical and professional services such as accounting or marketing support. It also delivers high-impact and culturally inclusive workshops, webinars, and peer-to-peer learning programs to clients, all part of which strengthens the overall support ecosystem NEI is working to expand throughout Wayne County.

“What I really enjoy about NEI is its ability to take a creative approach to supporting those who are working in the small business ecosystem to provide solutions that are inclusive,” says Dishman.

In addition to the NEI grant, Michigan Women Forward has also secured funding to support entrepreneurs from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the William Davidson Foundations and Consumers Energy.

“What I’ve seen in the time period that I was a traditional banker to where I sit now in the small business spectrum is that we have made great strides in terms of our ability to coordinate together and work as an ecosystem to support micro enterprises,” says Dishman. “We’re not only helping provide entrepreneurs with life-sustaining income, but also creating revitalization in the city of Detroit and its surrounding neighborhoods.”

Learn more about Michigan Women Forward.