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BofA looks to boost female entrepreneurs

By Caroline McMillan Portillo
cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com

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  • Want more information?

    For more details and applications for the Elizabeth Street Capital initiative, visit www.toryburchfoundation.org.

    To reach out to Self-Help, visit self-help.org.



Charlotte-area female entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses will have greater access to capital, mentoring and networking thanks to a new partnership between billionaire fashion designer Tory Burch and Bank of America.

Through the effort, known as Elizabeth Street Capital, Bank of America is giving a total of $10 million for loans to female entrepreneurs – first in Charlotte and five other cities, then in other places over the next two years.

Bank of America and the New York-based Tory Burch Foundation, a nonprofit Burch launched in 2009 to support economic empowerment of women, will split the additional $2million in operating costs.

Named for the New York street where Burch started her first boutique, Elizabeth Street Capital began Jan. 27and is rolling out in Charlotte, New York, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia and Las Vegas.

The loans will be distributed through nonprofit entrepreneurial loan centers, also known as community development financial institutions. In Charlotte, Self-Help Credit Union at 926 Elizabeth Ave. is the participating center.

In the Charlotte-Gastonia region, about 45,000 of the total 154,000 businesses were women-owned, said Bob Schall, president of Self-Help Ventures Fund, referencing a 2007 U.S. Census Bureau survey of business owners.

To find out more about the initiative and how female entrepreneurs can get involved, ShopTalk spoke with Bank of America executive Andrew Plepler, who is overseeing the bank’s role in the new program.

Here are excerpts:

Q. What kind of female-owned businesses can take advantage of this initiative?

A.

The general framework is for established businesses that have been operating for about two years and are looking to expand ... whether it’s opening another store or hiring a couple more workers. But (Self-Help) will be the ultimate monitor of who they make loans to. They do allow for startups.

Q. How big are the loans?

A.

Each community development financial institution will set precise limits, but what you’re looking at here are loans in the $25,000 to $50,000 (range).

Q. How much of the $10 million will come to Charlotte over the next two years?

A. That will be a conversation we have with each individual community development financial institution, based on what they see as the demand. We don’t look at this as two years and we’re done. If we’ve generated the demand we hope to generate and these women entrepreneurs are taking out these loans and repaying them, then we intend to recirculate this capital for the program. We hope it will be successful and grow.

Q. What else can loan recipients expect to get out of the program?

A.

Mentoring is a big piece of the program, and a big piece of the Tory Burch Foundation mission. All of the launch events for various cities are mentoring events where established, successful women entrepreneurs sit down with (less experienced) entrepreneurs and give advice, counsel, mentoring and coaching on business plans, marketing, how to think about risk, how to think about HR. A launch event (in Charlotte) is being scheduled.

Q. So why are you partnering with nonprofit financial institutions like Self-Help instead of just offering that funding through the bank?

A. The nonprofit partner(s) here have real expertise in what we call higher-risk small-business lending. (Businesses) will get a kind of customized consulting from the community development financial institution that they may not get at a (traditional bank), where they may simply be declined. You will have more of an ongoing dialogue. (Self-Help) offers a lot of hands-on and personal interactions with women.

Portillo: 704-358-6045; Twitter: @cbmcmillan
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