With $20,000 and three months’ time, Michelle Lally has built a business – and a community.
Her 3,500-square-foot Mooresville wellness center, “A New You Body Works,” combines the services of various holistic-care providers, including licensed massage therapists such as herself, an acupuncturist, a homeopathy specialist, nutritionist and yoga instructors.
“If you build a strong person, you build a strong community in the long run,” Lally says.
That’s how the Michael Scott Mater Foundation felt, too, when they approved Lally for a $10,000 “green microloan.”
It was a turning point in Lally’s short journey from brainstorm to Opening Day.
The foundation, headquartered at uptown startup hub Packard Place, is a nonprofit that lends money to Charlotte-area entrepreneurs who want to start or expand a small business using sustainable practices – such as reducing electricity consumption or improving air quality.
“Are you being socially responsible? ... Are you helping others? That’s the whole purpose of our program,” says Executive Director Rosanna Saladin.
Lally’s business plan fit the bill.
New pursuit: A California native, Lally, 49, spent the first 25 years of her career helping companies use the financial software QuickBooks. Five years ago, she attended cosmetology school to learn massage therapy. But she waited until she had a book full of clients and a formal business plan before she approached any lenders.
Banks turned her down three times. So she cobbled together $10,000, pulling from her savings and 401(k). She found her ideal location, but she needed more money to finish outfitting the building and cover her first month’s rent. A friend suggested she approach the MSM Foundation.
Must-have elements for a microloan: “She had a folder full of documents, and she put it on my desk and said, ‘That’s everything: My business plan, my financial statements and my cash flow,’” Saladin recalls. “She has the knowledge, she has the skill, she has everything in place but that little push. And that’s where we come in.”
After a friend agreed to co-sign the loan, the foundation loaned Lally $10,000, which she put toward a security system, furniture, paint, advertising and rent.
The Mater family started the foundation in 2008 to honor Michael “Scott” Mater who joined the family engineering firm and worked with sustainable forestry development. In 2002, he died of cancer.
Proposed businesses must be small to qualify for microloans. Most have a maximum of five employees. So far, the foundation has given a combined $157,000 in microloans to eight local micro-entrepreneurs, Saladin said.
But even in the absence of a loan, the organization offers entrepreneurial training and technical assistance. About 860 local entrepreneurs have worked with the MSM Foundation.
Lally was the rare case of someone who already had a business plan. Most beneficiaries of the foundation’s microloan program go through its 10-week program to get to that point.
Healing and handiwork: In November 2012, Lally’s friends, family and clients volunteered to paint, decorate and outfit the space for its plumbing and electrical needs, using money from the microloan to do it.
She now has one room is dedicated to relaxation, an oxygen bar and herbal tea made locally. The third floor, used for occasional yoga classes, also is open to the public for meditation.
Lally plans to host a monthly “Wellness Wednesday,” where holistic health providers can network, and people in the area can meet them all at once. The first will be Feb. 6.
Says Lally: “It was just another way to reach out to the community and say, ‘Let’s support each other.’ ”
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