Coupling credit needs with some strategic assistance while developing a business is “the secret sauce to sustainability and prosperity,” according to Jefferson Economic Development Institute Executive Director Nancy Swift.

That recipe is at the foundation of Opportunity Fund Empowering Women, a pilot program in which Women’s Business Center at JEDI is participating with the goal of making more loans available to small business owners.

The program offers working capital loans that reward borrowers with 2% off the annual interest rate when they apply for free mentoring through the Women’s Business Center at JEDI.

Such mentoring has been shown to have a significant long-term impact on business revenue, according to research and surveys.

Loan amounts range from $5,000 up to $100,000.

A loan review will consider aspects of the borrower’s personal experience and business knowledge. Once approved, small women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs with as little as one year in business can receive funding in two to five days, according to a press release.

While the program is geared toward women, JEDI Program & Marketing Coordinator Jenny Payton said funds are available to men as well.

Opportunity Fund, described in a press release as the largest nonprofit lender to small businesses in California and a national leader for the microfinance movement, announced the Empowering Women program last week.

It describes the pilot program with Women’s Business Center at JEDI as an effort “to educate, mentor, and provide access to affordable, responsible capital for women-owned small businesses.”

“We are so thrilled to be part of this innovative approach to getting more women the credit they deserve and need to grow their businesses,” Swift states in the release. “We applaud the discount that the Opportunity Fund is giving to those women who couple their credit need with some strategic assistance to develop their business. This is the secret sauce to sustainability and prosperity. We know more women in the CA North State need capital for their businesses and we are pleased to be partners with the Opportunity Fund in providing that capital and assistance to truly thrive.”

“By ensuring that women have equal opportunity to succeed as business founders and owners we help strengthen communities, families and local economies,” said Luz Urrutia, CEO, Opportunity Fund. “When I was an entrepreneur, I remember being denied credit and the long path to growing and scaling businesses. Our mission is to address inequities in access to transparent, affordable credit that limit opportunities for hardworking women.”

The press release points to this “Women-owned Small Business Snapshot:”

• One in three small businesses is woman-owned and 99 percent of women-owned businesses are small businesses.

• Women-owned businesses account for 39% of all U.S. firms, but receive only 16% of all traditional business loans.

• Women of color lead four out of ten small businesses.

• Latina owned businesses have grown 137% since 2006.

“Access to responsible capital is the lifeblood of a business, and the systematic barriers to affordable credit for women must be honestly addressed and confronted,” added Gwendy Donaker Brown, Vice President of Research and Policy. “Opportunity Fund has a long history of seeking policy change that supports equity and economic opportunity. This campaign puts that effort into practice on a deeper level.”

OFEW is part of a broad initiative by Opportunity Fund to build a community and develop resources to support women’s economic empowerment, according to the press release. "Currently in development, Opportunity Fund’s CEO Luz Urrutia is building a group of advisors to assess the landscape on what Opportunity Fund can do to deepen its support for women entrepreneurs by developing our own financial products and services and identifying partners in the community to provide complimentary support services."

For more information or to apply for a loan through Opportunity Fund Empowering Women, contact Women’s Business Center at JEDI at info@e-jedi.org call (530) 926-6670, or visit www.e-jedi.org.