Diane Mastrull: It's a mixed blend

Coffee roasters win a loan, but many small businesses go begging.

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Chris (left) and Tom Molieri, owners of Green Street Coffee Roasters, sit among bags of green coffee beans. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)

In the tight-money world of small business owners, the occasion seemed more worthy of a bottle of bubbly than a steaming cup of Honduran dark roast.

But java is the specialty of Green Street Coffee Roasters, the 17-month-old South Philadelphia company owned by brothers Chris and Tom Molieri.

Early last week, the Molieris were celebrating a $10,000 loan for equipment they had just secured. They were also raising a cup to the entity that made it happen – Entrepreneur Works.

It is a community development financial institution, or CDFI, one of a network of nearly 1,000 mostly nonprofit entities nationwide devoted to helping entrepreneurs overcome what stymies so many of them: access to capital.

That access has become even more elusive since the economic crisis of 2008 and the resulting reluctance by banks to lend money.

In this post-recession recovery period, banks have increasingly looked to CDFIs to handle small-business lending, rendering them "substantially more important than we were before the recession started," said Mark Pinsky, president and CEO of Opportunity Finance Network.

It is a Philadelphia-based organization, founded in 1985, and is a network of 202 CDFIs nationwide, including credit unions, loan funds, and microlenders. While a sizable group, it is hard-pressed to meet the needs of small businesses, Pinsky said.

"The capacity to support small businesses isn't up to the demand," he said. "Without a doubt, demand is through the roof."

Opportunity Finance Network's most recent report on market conditions - published in April and based on activity in the third and fourth quarters of 2011 - projected a $694 million shortfall nationally in financing capital for small businesses through the third and fourth quarters of 2012. State and federal budget cuts have contributed to the increased demands on CDFIs, Pinsky said.

A report by the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia (SBN) in November 2011 enumerated many problems with Philadelphia's small-business climate. Insufficient funding from CDFIs was among them.

"While the average CDFI in the nation made $12.5 million in loans available to businesses [in 2008], the average Philadelphia CDFI made only $4 million available," the report said.

Among the recommendations SBN made was for the city government to help high-performing CDFIs expand, and to require data on the number and performance of loans to small businesses from CDFIs that receive city funding.

Pinsky said the subject of unmet small-business financing needs in Philadelphia is on radar screens outside the city, region, and state.

"A lot of people nationally recognize the need and are trying to figure out how to increase capacity in Philadelphia," Pinsky said, noting that "unfortunately" the city was competing with others with similar unmet needs.

Entrepreneur Works, established in 1989 as Philadelphia Development Partnership, just hit an annual high in loans issued – $171,000 for the fiscal year that ended June 30, said Leslie Benoliel, executive director.

In all, the nonprofit has a total loan fund of $450,000, about $240,000 of which is currently outstanding, she said. Since its inception, Entrepreneur Works has issued a total of 350 loans, most ranging from $500 to $5,000, Benoliel said.

Benoliel, a former banker, said she recently put together an ambitious vision statement that calls for Entrepreneur Works to have a loan fund of $2 million within five years and to be issuing 100 loans a year.

As a member of SBN's board, Benoliel endorses its call for more financial help for CDFIs in Philadelphia. That plea has gained some traction with banks, she said, noting a $322,500 contribution in August by six major banks to Finanta, a North Philadelphia CDFI, to boost lending to small-scale entrepreneurs.

"There's recognition and that's the first step," Benoliel said.

In Entrepreneur Works' case, Benoliel said, more financial support is not only critical to its lending ability, but to enable it to continue to offer more business-development aid to entrepreneurs. It currently offers three educational sessions a year - each of them 14 classes held over eight weeks for $99.

Coffee entrepreneur Chris Molieri, 28, is an alum. He spoke as enthusiastically about that classroom experience as he did about securing the $10,000 loan from Entrepreneur Works.

After all, he had no business-ownership experience when he decided to go into the coffee business. He was a Temple University graduate with a bachelor's degree in finance, who had worked in commercial real estate and loan servicing before taking a job with a CDFI in Oregon, where he had spent some time with a coffee roaster and "recognized my innate desire to open a small business."

But desire takes you only so far, he quickly recognized.

In Earl Boyd's class – the Entrepreneur Works instructor speaks from experience as the owner of a hair-care products company and a business consultant - Molieri learned about the essentials of marketing, branding, taxes, and insurance. And about the importance of thorough research.

That last part taught Molieri something that just might have saved him from disaster: that he wasn't ready when he first started his business to pursue his ultimate objective - to open a "really fine" coffee bar.

So for now, Green Street Coffee Roasters supplies commercial customers as the Molieri brothers refine their marketing message and further explore what it will take to have a retail operation.

"If Entrepreneur Works didn't exist, it would make it a lot scarier for me," Chris Molieri said.

 


Diane Mastrull: Access to Money

Impact of three Philly-based CDFIs for 2011:
  The Reinvestment Fund Finanta Entrepreneur Works

Total loans issued 43 110 13

Total dollar amount $78.1 million $3 million $100,840

Jobs created and retailed 2,731 604 11

SOURCE: Opportunity Finance Network


Diane Mastrull:

Chris and Tom Molieri tell how Entrepreneur Works helped them build their business, Green Street Coffee Roasters. Watch a video at philly.com/business.


Contact Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com, or @mastrud on Twitter.