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“Do not be afraid to ask for and accept help and support” #SFSBW2016 Interview: Main Street Launch

#SFSBW2016 asked our business resources to share insights, best practices, and examples of how they help small business owners flourish. Today we hear from Main Street Launch (formerly OBDC Small Business Finance)

What is your organizations mission?
Our mission is to create economic opportunity by empowering entrepreneurs with capital, education, and relationships that allow them to flourish, create jobs, and stimulate economic development in low-to-moderate income communities.

What are your organizations recent accomplishments that demonstrate how you have helped the small business community?
Since 1979, Main Street Launch (formerly OBDC Small Business Finance), has provided capital, education, and relationships to aspiring and existing small business owners. In the last five years, we have provided 325 companies with over $27 million in loan capital. These companies have created and sustained over 2500 jobs in our communities.

Our portfolio is diverse and reflects the communities we serve in Oakland, San Francisco, and veteran-owned businesses across California. In the last five years, 67% of the businesses we support operate in a low-to-moderate income neighborhood, creating jobs and bringing essential goods and services where they are needed most. 60% of our clients are new businesses, 53% are owned by women, and 46% are owned by people of color.

What tools and resources has your organization created to help small businesses tap into new opportunities to reach new customers, increase their revenue, and grow their business?
Main Street Launch provides access to capital to entrepreneurs, helping launch new and existing businesses to the next level. In addition, each client works one-on-one with an experienced loan officer to help ensure the viability of their business plan and goals. After they receive the loan, our doors are always open for one-on-one advising, to attend one of our workshops, or to connect with resources in our network.

We’re proud to partner with other organizations to ensure that our small business clients have access to the resources they need to be successful. Our partnership with BusinessAdvising.org allows our clients to be paired with a business mentor that helps them to address their current business challenges at no cost to the business. Our partnership with Townsqd allows our clients to privately connect with other neighborhood businesses, collaborate, and develop thriving neighborhoods through this social network platform. Our partnership with Localwise helps our clients connect with the local employee candidates that they need to run their businesses successfully.

San Francisco has been experiencing quite the transformation. What is your organization doing to attract and support new and younger small business owners? What resources do you offer to entrepreneurs and small businesses to get started?
Main Street Launch is proud to partner with the City of San Francisco, administering the City’s Emerging Business Loan Fund. Through this partnership, we offer small business loans from $25,000 to $250,000 to entrepreneurs who want to start a new business or grow their existing business. In the last five years, more than half of our San Francisco clients have been new businesses. We work with our clients to help them secure the right loan amount and set realistic goals. After they receive the loan, our doors are always open to provide additional growth funding and business advising. We also offer a connection to a network of organizations in the San Francisco Economic Development Alliance (SFEDA) to support their growth and business management needs.

San Francisco is known for its diverse culture. How does your organization ensure that the small businesses that make this city unique are able to stay in San Francisco?
Access to capital is a challenge for many small business owners, and it is especially a challenge for new businesses without operating history. We provide a unique service to these businesses to help them access the capital that is critically needed to launch their new or existing business to the next level.

Main Street Launch’s loans are often used for working capital, which support existing small businesses with the cash they need to survive and thrive in a costly market like San Francisco.

We’re proud to support a diverse group of business owners in San Francisco with our multilingual staff. About half of our San Francisco clients operate in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods and 34% are people of color. In the last five years, more than half of our San Francisco clients are women.

What words of advice or wisdom would you like to share with small business owners?
Many small business owners try to “go it alone” or start or grow their business without help. Having a group of trusted advisors who care about your business’ success can be critically important to your business’ survival. Do not be afraid to ask for and accept help and support.

Having sufficient cash flow can be the difference between staying in business and closing down. An affordable loan from a responsible lender can help your business survive the lean months and help bolster your operations and revenue by investing in essential inventory, equipment, or additional staff. It is worth the time to learn about different financing options and the cost of capital for each option, even if you don’t think you need financing right now.

Hear from other small businesses that have used Main Street Launch to tap into new opportunities and grow their businesses.

Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack:Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, 2015-12-10
Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack, located on 3230 Mission Street in San Francisco, is the culmination of Emily Kaplan’s life-long career working in the restaurant business and was almost a lost dream.

After 13 years of doing business, Emily felt the pressures of the real estate boom in San Francisco and struggled to secure a lease and keep her business open. She applied for loans but was consistently denied even with a perfect credit score and positive financial history. On the verge of losing her business, Emily was referred to OBDC though the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. Once in contact with OBDC Emily was quickly able to go through the loan process, attain a loan, and finally secure a lease. Emily said, “The timing and importance of this loan was critical for me. Without OBDC I would simply not be in business”.

With a lease secured Emily was able to refocus on running her restaurant. Her new location came with a bigger kitchen which allowed her to expand her menu that features cheesy garlic bread, Mayan prawn ceviche, zoodles (zucchini is the pasta), and plates of spaghetti and meatballs big enough to warrant an area code. The dinner rush is filled with families enjoying food and later in the evening the night crowd make use of the bar that offers draft beers, sangria, and a line of non-alcoholic drinks too.

The new Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack has been a huge success. Check out their menu and visit for a fun and delicious family dinner!

Dark Garden:Photo by Joel Aron, Autumn Adamme, Dark Garden
Since 1989, Autumn Adamme’s business Dark Garden has specialized in making corsets and special occasion garments, both ready-to-wear and custom pieces. Her gorgeous retail/production space brings Dark Garden’s mission statement to life: supporting uncommon beauty one waist at a time.

“I learned to sew at a young age from my mother, and I always knew I wanted to make beautiful things,” says Autumn. In 2009, she received a $29,000 microloan from OBDC, allowing her to upgrade Dark Garden’s machinery and and hire more talent: “When we got our loan from OBDC we needed to hire staff as soon as possible to meet our demand.”

Currently, Dark Garden has 14 employees and Autumn’s two focuses are first, ensuring that her customers have a great experience, and second, ensuring that her staff feel supported and happy. “Many people on our staff have come to Dark Garden after working in jobs that just didn’t work for them. We’re a place where people can feel at home while making a living,” says Autumn.

“My first loan was through OBDC, and it felt easy. I’d been in business for ten or more years, but this was the first time I’d written a business plan. It was great to feel encouraged to take that on, and OBDC offered a lot of guidance and responded whenever I had questions,” reflects Autumn.

Dark Garden continues to grow and expand. This fall, Autumn expands her team to include Mr. Pearl, one of the premiere couture corset makers from Paris, enabling Dark Garden to expand its offerings. Their production is currently on-site at her store, and her team produces between 12-20 pieces each week. Dark Garden is more than a retail space – they create a safe space for everyone to explore their own ideas of beauty. Autumn’s business is really about creating community: “We make what may seem odd to some people, seem part of life to our customers.”

Follow Dark Garden’s blog to stay up-to-date on their events and offerings, and visit Dark Garden’s website for more about the business.

Awesome Bars:Awesome Bars, Stephanie Leah others baking
It was seven years ago at Christmas that sisters Leah and Stefanie Melnik packed boxes of Leah’s handmade treats to send to family and friends. The bars were made with wholesome ingredients and designed to give a burst of energy, and people thought they were awesome.

Leah and Stefanie worked with Urban Solutions when writing their business plan. In 2013 Awesome Bars hit a growth point and they were looking for a loan. The sisters weren’t making any progress with traditional bank loans so they asked Urban Solutions for some help. Urban Solutions put Leah and Stephanie in touch with OBDC.

“After we went through months of getting the run around from the bank we were trying to get a loan from, working with OBDC was a dream. They understood where we were coming from as a small business and knew that we needed a loan with a fast turnaround time,” Stephanie said. They used their loan for working capital and purchasing equipment to improve efficiency.

Now, Awesome Bars are selling in coffee shops all the way from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles and the two sisters are excited to launch a new loose granola product. “Our motto is “you can’t fake awesome“ and we live by it! Stephanie said. “With our awesome team, we do everything by hand; from rolling out the batches, cutting the bars to size, and carefully packaging each bar. We put a lot of love in our bars and we know you can taste it!” OBDC is proud to be a part of this awesome story.

Lumio:
In the fall of 2012, Max Gunawan conceived a design for a light that allows people to have beautiful lighting—anywhere. In February 2013 he launched the product on Kickstarter and Lumio was born. Just over a year later Max’s design is selling in the MOMA store in New York City and in high-end design shops across the country, and soon, across the globe.

A financial advisor recommended that Max look into SBA loans for his business. He was nervous about the process because Max’s design studio was a start-up that used crowdfunding to launch, “we were an oddball,” Max said. “But the whole process moved really fast. I don’t know what I would have done if it wasn’t for OBDC, there weren’t any other options.”

Max used the loan to help maintain operations. “I used it for marketing and hiring staff,” Max said. “It started with just me and now I have two full-time and one part-time staff. This year we’re starting to look more strategically and grow the business.”

The lighting product is the studio’s first design, but Max sees more in the future. He says that the company will continue to focus on “designing objects that help people live larger in a small space.” OBDC is proud to support Lumio and the innovative designs to come!

D&H Sustainable Jewelers:D_H Jewelry, Lindsay Shawn
After twenty years in the jewelry business Shawn Higgins was questioning whether he wanted to stay in an industry that can be harmful to people and the environment. Around the same time, he met Lindsay Daunell who has a background in environmental studies and fashion. As Shawn said, “all of this married into the perfect storm to create the idea for D&H Sustainable Jewelers.”

Together, Shawn and Lindsay own and operate their store in San Francisco. The two are happy to provide a source for sustainable jewelry made from ethically sourced materials combined with high-end design, and a wine bar! Shawn and Lindsay opened in 2011, on the same day that they received their first loan from OBDC.

A $35,000 microloan was used for build-out and inventory. Shawn said that without this loan they wouldn’t have made it through their first three months in business. The San Francisco SBA office referred Shawn and Lindsay to OBDC because they didn’t have the collateral to qualify for traditional funding.

Shawn said that working with OBDC was a positive experience, so in 2013 they came back to the organization for a larger loan. 2013 was a big year for D&H; they saw 50-80% growth from the year before. “We needed to hire more employees, expand our product line, and remodel,” Shawn said. A $250,000 Community Advantage loan gave their business the breathing room it needed to continue to grow.

Shawn is almost breathless when he talks about D&H’s future. He’s proud of how he and Lindsay have created a business that expresses their love for jewelry and their concern for communities and the environment. And OBDC is proud to have supported them from the beginning.

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