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SF Small Business Week. Celebrate Small Business.

Working Solutions: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask and Learn

#SFSBW2019 asked some of our resources to share insights, best practices, and examples of how they help small business owners flourish. Today we hear from Natalya Blumenfeld, Communications Officer of Working Solutions.

working solutions san francisco small business week

What is your Organization’s Mission?

Working Solutions is the First to Believe in start-up and early-stage businesses by providing diverse entrepreneurs with affordable capital, customized business consulting, and community connections to increase economic opportunity in the San Francisco Bay Area.

What are Working Solutions’ recent accomplishments that demonstrate how you have helped the small business community?

Working Solutions has invested over $22 million in microloans and grants to over 900 small businesses throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. These businesses have created or retained over 4,000 local jobs in our neighborhoods and communities. We have educated over 20,000 entrepreneurs interested in starting or growing a small business, and we have connected our clients to an additional $23 million in conventional and equity financing. We focus on serving entrepreneurs who often face barriers to accessing capital, especially lower-income individuals, women, and entrepreneurs of color. There continues to be a great need for our services, and by 2024, we will expand our impact by deploying a total of $50 million to our priority populations.

What tools and resources has Working Solutions created to help small businesses tap into new opportunities to reach new customers, increase their revenue, and grow their business?

Working Solutions takes a holistic view of small business support by pairing our loans with free, one-on-one business consulting – our approach helps budding entrepreneurs not just survive, but thrive. In addition to microloans of $5,000-$50,000, Working Solutions provides pre-loan consulting to loan applicants and up to five years of post-loan consulting to each business in our loan portfolio. We support our entrepreneurs throughout the different phases of their business cycle to ensure success as the business gets established, grows, and matures.

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?

Working Solutions focuses on supporting early-stage businesses. Close to 80% of our loans are made to businesses with less than 5 years in operation, and nearly 50% of our loans are made to start-ups with less than 2 years in operation, a segment with few affordable credit options. In July 2018, Working Solutions started lending to holders of Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). Since non-U.S. citizens often find it difficult to access credit due to their lack of credit history in the U.S., the IRS can issue them an ITIN, allowing them to apply for an Employer Identification Number. This allows them to pay business taxes and build credit histories in the United States. With an estimated 360,000 undocumented residents in the San Francisco, Oakland, Hayward, San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara metro areas, Working Solutions now has the opportunity to deploy capital to this critically underserved community.

San Francisco is known for its diverse culture. How does Working Solutions ensure that the small businesses that make this city unique are able to stay in San Francisco?

The booming local economy is feeding demand for a limited supply of commercial real estate and leading to exorbitant rent hikes that most small business owners can’t afford. Working Solutions provides real estate services in the form of direct consulting for lease review, lease evaluation, rent negotiation, and relocation advice as part of our business consulting work to help businesses stay in the Bay Area. As a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) focused on early-stage and start-up businesses, Working Solutions helps our clients build their credit so that they can attain more credit as their businesses mature. We do this by reporting credit monthly to the consumer and business credit bureaus with the goal that our entrepreneurs can grow their own credit as well as the credit of their businesses.

What words of advice or wisdom would you like to share with small business owners?

Working Solutions client Patty Rodriguez of SF Parking said it best, “Be willing to take the risk. There are resources out there. Don’t be afraid to ask and learn.” You can watch Patty talking about her path to entrepreneurship on ChedHer TV, an online news show about women entrepreneurs, here. Patty received a loan from Working Solutions through the San Francisco Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, a collaborative partnership between Working Solutions, JPMorgan Chase, and two other local CDFIs – ICA Fund Good jobs and Pacific Community Ventures.

Please share with us some real-life examples of how you’ve supported small businesses.

Local Bookstores:
Working Solutions partners with San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the San Francisco Small Business Development Center (SBDC) on behalf of local bookstores. Through the program, Working Solutions has awarded $103,000 to eleven local bookstores who together have generated over $9.8 million in annual sales, have created or retained over 100 jobs, have an average of 21 years in business, and who host over 40 free community events monthly.

Emergency Loan Fund Support:

Working Solutions was honored by the Napa Valley Community Foundation in October 2018 as a key “Second Responder” to last year’s Napa fires. According to the Foundation, “After first responders directly battled flames and rescued victims when fires broke out in October 2017, another group of locals, the ‘second responders,’ stepped in to provide shelter, food, medical aid, and ongoing recovery assistance for those who were affected by the fires.”

Over 20 second responder organizations were recognized at the event, with awards presented by public officials and Terence Mulligan, CEO of the Napa Valley Community Foundation. In partnership with the Foundation, Working Solutions has disbursed close to $350,000 through 21 grants to small businesses that were adversely affected by the October 2017 wildfires. 

Local Business Support:

Nigella, LLC

Rubie Campbell and James Austin had a clear vision for their floral boutique, Nigella SF. The challenge they faced was how to turn that dream into a reality. In particular, as a start-up, they were unable to find conventional financing for their business, and they needed help finding a location for their shop. The Working Solutions team helped guide them through the process of negotiating a three-year lease with an option to renew in San Francisco’s Embarcadero District. After securing their space, Rubie and James received a loan from Working Solutions to finance the build out of their retail space. Nigella has created 12 jobs and continues to grow with many corporate accounts and individual customers.


Connect with Working Solutions:

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