Columbus now has two of the top performing small business lenders in the country.
For four consecutive years, Huntington Bancshares was named the largest SBA lender in the US, and in late January, the Economic Community Development Institute (ECDI) became the nation’s largest SBA microlender.
Small businesses were in dire need of capital during the pandemic and ECDI stepped in to fill the gap. In 2020, the nonprofit distributed $16.9 million in loans from April through December. In 2021, the organization issued 2,757 loans worth $61.2 million.
“It’s a great honor for us, but especially so since the onset of COVID,” said Inna Kinney, 59, of Bexley, ECDI Founder and CEO. “We have made strategic efforts to help small businesses that historically have been unable to obtain funding from traditional financial institutions.”
Since its inception in 2004, ECDI has provided $135.8 million in loans to underserved and underserved entrepreneurs and created over 13,200 jobs. In addition to functioning as an SBA microcredit facilitator, the organization is a certified community development corporation and community development financial institution. In addition to the federal government, the organization receives funding from banks, foundations, municipalities, and the state of Ohio.
While microloans are capped at $50,000, ECDI offers loans up to $500,000.
ECDI has additional offices in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron and Toledo and its presence extends to Kentucky and Indiana. In addition to providing loans, the organization offers training, technical support and incubation services. In fact, there are four women’s business centers across Ohio.
ECDI was a key component to the SBA’s success, according to Everett Woodel Jr., district director of SBA Central and Southern Ohio.
“They have been extremely helpful in obtaining loans and other financial and business support for our small businesses,” Woodel said. “It’s the small businesses that would have otherwise gone under during the pandemic. They really filled the void.”
Woodel also praised Kinney’s drive.
“She’s definitely motivated,” he said. “She knows the markets very well. She really cares.”
Since the pandemic began, Kinney said she’s been in overdrive, urging funders to start by giving direct grants to companies so they can stay afloat.
“I begged and begged,” she said.
Then she returned to these lenders to ask for low-interest capital.
Next, she decided to offer Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, especially since minority-owned companies were excluded from the process.
“The banks weren’t responsive to the needs of these companies,” she said. “They’ve basically always given PPP loans to the same old customers. I said to my staff, ‘We’re going to make $25 million in PPP loans.’ And I was laughed out of the room.”
In 2021, ECDI issued 2,148 PPP loans valued at over US$44 million. About 75% of the recipients were African American-owned businesses and about 41% were women-owned businesses.
“I’ve had quite a few bets[with co-workers],” Kinney said, laughing. “Nobody ever paid.”
Kinney said that because of her personal experience, she is particularly committed to helping underserved businesses. She grew up in the former Soviet Union and was discriminated against because she was Jewish. When her family fled to the United States, she faced discrimination because she was an immigrant.
“My mission in life is to create a level playing field for everyone because it doesn’t matter if you are white or black, female or male; Everyone deserves a chance,” she said.
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As a minority-owned electrical contracting service provider, Universe Electric has benefited from ECDI’s services.
The Columbus-based company is owned by David Henry, who leveraged the organization’s capital program for African American and minority-owned construction companies, who often struggle to pay upfront costs to complete projects.
“We’ve been working on the new Columbus Crew Stadium,” said Henry, 60, of the South Side. “It helped us get up and running because it took 60 days to see our first payment. Being able to get this money upfront helped our payroll. Because of this program, we were able to take on some larger projects this year. (ECDI) is a lifeline.”
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ECDI plans to maintain the same pace while the pandemic continues. The organization recently remodeled their building to provide more workspace for entrepreneurs. And the team is launching a three-year, $20 million capital campaign to support small businesses.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” Kinney said. “My goal is to always make sure they are not left behind.”