Columbus now has two of the top-performing Small Business Administration lenders in the country.
For four years in a row, Huntington Bancshares has been named the largest SBA lender in the U.S. And in late January, the Economic Community Development Institute (ECDI) became the nation’s largest SBA microlender.
Small businesses were in dire need of capital during the pandemic, and ECDI stepped up to fill the gap. In 2020, from April through December, the nonprofit distributed $16.9 million in loans. In 2021, the organization gave out 2,757 loans, worth $61.2 million.
“It’s a huge honor for us, but especially since COVID started,” said Inna Kinney, 59, of Bexley, who is the founder and CEO of ECDI. “We made a strategic effort to help small businesses because, historically, they are not able to get funding from traditional financial institutions.”
Since its inception in 2004, ECDI has provided $135.8 million in loans to underserved and underbanked entrepreneurs, creating over 13,200 jobs. In addition to operating as a SBA microloan intermediary, the organization also is a certified community development corporation and community development financial institution. Beyond the federal government, the organization receives funding from banks, foundations, municipalities and the state of Ohio.
While microloans are capped at $50,000, ECDI offers loans up to $500,000.
ECDI has additional offices in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron and Toledo, and its footprint extends into Kentucky and Indiana. Along with distributing loans, the organization provides training, technical assistance and incubation services. In fact, it has four women’s business centers throughout Ohio.
ECDI has been a key component of the SBA’s success, according to SBA Central and Southern Ohio District Director Everett Woodel Jr.
“They’ve been exceedingly helpful in getting loans and other financial and business assistance out to our small businesses,” Woodel said. “It’s the small business ventures who would’ve otherwise gone under during the pandemic. They really filled the gap.”
Woodel also praised Kinney’s drive.
“She is definitely motivated,” he said. “She knows the markets very well. She truly cares.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, Kinney said she went into overdrive, calling on funders to, at first, provide direct grants to businesses so they could stay afloat.
“I begged and pleaded,” she said.
Then, she returned to those funders to ask for low-interest capital.
Next, she decided to provide Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) lending, especially since minority-owned businesses were being locked out of the process.
“Banks were not addressing the needs of those businesses,” she said. “They were pretty much giving PPP loans to the same old clients. I told my staff, ‘We’re going do $25 million in PPP loans.’ And I was laughed out of the room.”
In 2021, ECDI distributed 2,148 PPP loans worth over $44 million. Approximately 75% of recipients were African American-owned businesses, and about 41% were women-owned businesses.
“I had whole bunch of bets (with staff),” Kinney said, laughing. “Nobody ever paid.”
Kinney said she is especially passionate about helping underserved businesses because of her personal experience. Growing up in the former Soviet Union, she faced discrimination because she was Jewish. When her family fled to the United States, she faced discrimination because she was an immigrant.
“My life passion is to level the playing field for everybody, because it doesn’t matter whether you’re white or Black, or a woman or a man; everybody deserves an opportunity,” she said.
As a minority-owned electrical contracting service, Universe Electric has benefited from ECDI’s services.
The Columbus-based company is owned by David Henry, who took advantage of the organization’s capital program for African American- and minority-owned construction businesses, which often struggle to pay up-front costs to complete projects.
“We worked on the new Columbus Crew stadium,” said Henry, 60, of the South Side. “It helped us to get up and going because it took us 60 days before we saw our first payment. Being able to get that money up-front helped our payroll. So, we were able to take on some larger projects this year because of this program. (ECDI) is a lifeline.”
ECDI plans to keep the same pace as the pandemic continues. Theorganization recently retooled its building to offer more workspace for entrepreneurs. And the team is launching a $20 million, three-year capital campaign in support of small businesses.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” Kinney said. “My goal is to always ensure they do not get left behind.”