Small Business Finance Forum

  • OFN's annual Small Business Finance Forum is the premier event for

  • mission-driven small business lenders, partners, and advocates.

Special Notice

Due to the pandemic, the OFN Small Business Finance Forum will be on hiatus in 2021. OFN will continue to deliver small business finance content for CDFIs through our regularly scheduled webinars and at the OFN Conference. We look forward to returning to an in-person Small Business Finance Forum in June 2022.


OFN Small Business Finance Forum

OFN’s annual Small Business Finance Forum is the premier event for mission-driven small business lenders, partners, and advocates.

Visit the tabs for recaps and content from previous Forums and subscribe to our newsletter to receive future information about the Forum, other OFN events, and CDFI industry news.


Small Business Finance Forum 2020 Recap

On June 16 and 17, OFN held its ninth annual—but first-ever virtual—Small Business Finance Forum for more than 800 mission-driven lenders, partners, and other advocates. We are grateful to our Lead Sponsor, JPMorgan Chase, and additional sponsors: MUFG Union Bank, Santander Bank, Wells Fargo, and Woodforest National Bank.

Featuring an opening and closing plenary, eleven breakout sessions, five “Meet a Small Business” demonstrations by CDFI-funded businesses, and a Partner Showcase, the 2020 Forum focused on ensuring a shared recovery for financially underserved small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic decline, and persistent racial inequity. Speakers from across the CDFI industry, the federal government, and major corporations joined us to lead timely discussions on critical issues facing CDFIs and the small businesses they serve.



The 2020 Small Business Finance Forum kicked off with a welcome address from OFN President and CEO Lisa Mensah. She helped set the tone for the event, stating:

“Persistent poverty didn’t just happen. Racial injustice didn’t just happen. It’s been a systemic march and it’s time to address inequality once and for all...This is the work we will discuss at this historic Small Business Finance Forum."

OFN also debuted a new video entitled “CDFIs Are on Your Side,” featuring CDFI-funded small businesses from rural, urban, and Native communities nationwide.

Following the video, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth Sr. Vice President Marla Blow led an insightful opening plenary discussion that brought together leaders from a cross-section of industries to discuss CDFIs’ critical role in “Ensuring a Shared Recovery across America.” Here are a few highlights:

  • Representative Dwight Evans (D-PA) underscored CDFIs as a key tool in the economic recovery toolbox and said we must be fearless and imaginative in our approach.

  • Representative TJ Cox (D-CA) discussed his long history partnering with CDFIs and the need to improve rural broadband and technological infrastructure.

  • Christopher Hollins, Managing Director, Business Banking, JPMorgan Chase, discussed the value CDFIs offer in building trust with and providing capital tailored to financially underserved communities.

  • Wendy Baumann, CEO/CVO, WWBIC, shared how CDFIs are working harder than ever through ongoing crises in our nation. She urged attendees to keep up the momentum for the sake of the clients and communities CDFIs serve.

  • Shanelle Snowden, owner of Legacy Home Health Services, explained how WWBIC has supported her entrepreneurial journey and is now helping her overcome the COVID-19 crisis with financing and business coaching.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also shared remarks highlighting how they’re supporting CDFIs and helping to ensure federal funding flows to small businesses and communities needing it most.


The 2020 Forum featured eleven breakout sessions focused on four broad topics: The Small Business Experience; Risk Management; Capitalization; and Sustainability. Attendees also had the opportunity to speak with panelists directly in group video chats following each session.

OFN members can view 2020 OFN Small Business Finance Forum breakout sessions and download handouts from CDFI Connect!


Five CDFI-funded small businesses gave attendees an inside look at their day-to-day operations and how they're overcoming obstacles with support from their CDFI:


The two-part closing plenary kicked off with a conversation between OFN’s Lisa Mensah and Alphabet and Google Sr. Vice President & CFO Ruth Porat. Referring to small businesses as the “lifeblood of the American economy,” Porat expressed her delight in partnering with OFN and leveraging the on-the-ground expertise of CDFIs to create impact. Porat also announced Google’s new $50 million commitment to Black communities via OFN and member CDFIs.

To close out the event, Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, joined longtime CDFI leader Bill Bynum, CEO of Hope Enterprise Corporation and Hope Credit Union to discuss the path forward for CDFIs. Making headlines in 2019 for his $34 million commitment to pay off student loans for the entire Morehouse College graduating class, Smith shared his powerful vision for the ‘capillary banking system’—one which flows “nutrients” in the form of capital, jobs, opportunity, etc., to people and communities left behind by traditional banks.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and CDFI Fund Director Jodie Harris also shared words of encouragement during the closing plenary. They spoke about what they are doing to support CDFIs and small businesses in this time of tremendous need.


We are grateful to our Lead Sponsor, JPMorgan Chase, and additional sponsors: MUFG Union Bank, Santander Bank, Wells Fargo, and Woodforest National Bank.

The 2020 Small Business Partner Showcase featured eight exhibitors who shared their latest products and services for mission-driven lenders and the small businesses they serve: 

  • Google

  • CDFI Women's Network

  • CDFI Connect

  • FUND Consulting

  • LoanWell

  • Wells Fargo

  • Santander Bank

  • JPMorgan Chase


Check out OFN’s Facebook page for our event photos!


Small Business Finance Forum 2019 Recap

On June 18 and 19, Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) hosted its eighth annual Small Business Finance Forum for nearly 400 representatives of community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and other mission-driven small business lenders and partners. Held at the JW Marriott in downtown Chicago, this year’s Forum placed a special focus on innovative approaches to supporting entrepreneurs facing the greatest barriers to (re)entry for starting and growing their own businesses.


OFN Executive Vice President of Knowledge Sharing Donna Fabiani kicked off the 2019 Small Business Finance Forum with a welcome address where she set the tone for this year’s convening by announcing that OFN recently joined the Responsible Business Lending Coalition:

“We are all focused on helping small businesses in the most economically challenged communities in our country succeed. To underscore OFN’s commitment to responsible business lending, we are proud to announce we recently joined the Responsible Business Lending Coalition, linking arms with other members to ensure healthy practices flourish.”

Lead Sponsor JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s Program Manager for Community Lending, Kevin Goldsmith provided welcoming remarks. Donna thanked JPMorgan Chase and all of the Forum’s generous sponsors for supporting the Forum and for their ongoing partnership with CDFIs:

Lead Sponsor

  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Additional Sponsors

  • Wells Fargo
  • Capital One
  • Santander
  • Woodforest National Bank


The opening plenary started with a video featuring a conversation between renowned criminal justice thought leader and social entrepreneur Teresa Hodge and Grammy Award winning musician John Legend, also an avid criminal justice reform advocate. They spoke about entrepreneurship as a way to reduce recidivism rates—individuals with criminal records and histories of incarceration have few options for employment and are effectively shut out of the job market.

Following the video, Teresa and OFN President and CEO Lisa Mensah discussed Teresa’s experience as a formerly incarcerated woman and how CDFIs can support economic mobility for the 70 million Americans with an arrest or conviction record—700,000 who are released from prison annually.

Teresa shared details about the work of her nonprofit organization, Mission: Launch, which she started with her daughter, Laurin (also a session panelist at the Forum), shortly after coming home from prison.

She also discussed her revolutionary R3 Score tool, a platform to help finance professionals assess the riskiness and financial capacity of customers with criminal records. Teresa is piloting R3 Score with CDFIs. She anticipates her tool may significantly reduce the stigma of a criminal record and improve a person’s chance at qualifying for a mainstream bank loan.

“When I went to prison I met exceptional women, and after I came home from prison, I met exceptional people,” she said. “And I think that if we’re all honest in this room, we’ve all made huge mistakes and many of us are grateful no one has ever found out about those things. We’re all better than our worst mistake. Period.”

Harold Pettigrew, Executive Director of Washington Area Community Investment Fund (Wacif) and Antoinette Truehart, Managing Director at Philadelphia-based CDFI Entrepreneur Works, validated Teresa’s insights by concluding the plenary discussion with remarks about their own experiences serving entrepreneurs with criminal records. 


SBFF’s lunch plenary featured OFN Chief Lending and Investment Officer Amir Kirkwood leading a conversation on innovative approaches to growing capital tailored to the unique needs of the target populations they intend to serve. The conversation also highlighted the importance of deploying the capital in enough volume to achieve fundamental change.

Gary Cunningham of Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) spoke about his involvement in the development of the newly created Black Vision Fund, an $80 million fund formed by seven CDFIs that is dedicated to supporting black-owned businesses. He described the vision for creating a renaissance in black lending through this increased capital flow.

Yuliya Tarasava, Co-founder and COO of CNote, shared the story behind her company’s mission-driven investment platform and its goal to create a bridge between CDFIs and investors. Launched in 2016 to close the growing wealth gap that she and fellow co-founder Catherine Berman had seen while working in finance, venture capital, and private equity, CNote directs capital invested through its platform to CDFIs, including through its new Wisdom Fund, which targets underserved female business owners.

David Gough, Senior Vice President and CFO at Grameen America, also shared details about his organization’s high touch, high tech lending model. Using the traditional group lending model, through which small groups of women are empowered to make recommendations around group membership and loan upsizing, Grameen America has successfully integrated the efficiencies of technology with all transactions taking place digitally—the CDFI boasting a 99.3 percent loan recovery rate among its 46,000 members. Gough also explained how Grameen America has been able to raise capital by selling a portion of its loans, enabling the CDFI to open a third branch in Los Angeles.


In addition to the Day 1 plenaries and a closing networking reception, attendees participated in concurrent sessions throughout the day on topics new to SBFF and other hot button issues, including Opportunity Zones, rural technical assistance, and lending to Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).

And throughout the SBFF there were many opportunities to learn more about products for small business service providers during the SBFF Small Business Partner Showcase.


Opening with the CDFI Women’s Network Breakfast, Day 2 featured two more sets of concurrent sessions on practitioner-driven topics, including supporting the growing number of women entrepreneurs, developing industry verticals, creating and implementing strategies for scalable outreach, advocating Truth-in-Lending Act protections, and facilitating racial equity in partnering and staffing. Afterwards, attendees headed to the Grand Ballroom for the closing plenary.


Led by Marina Linhart, CEO at Next Street, Wednesday’s closing plenary focused on preparing for the next recession and ensuring capacity to meet demand from small business owners in the face of tightening credit policies among traditional financial institutions, as occurred during the Great Recession. Panelists emphasized the importance of tracking economic data, particularly at the local level.

Claire Kramer Mills, Assistant Vice President at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, presented take-aways from the Fed’s small business credit survey, which began during the Great Recession. A question about CDFIs’ roles after natural disasters prompted her to highlight the successful collaboration among diverse lenders, including CDFIs and credit unions, in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy. The group determined an agreed upon set of principles of what credit decisions should look like in times of crisis.

Stating that the best defense is good offense, Michael Rapaport, Senior Vice President of Risk Management and Operations at Opportunity Fund, emphasized the importance of being proactive in tracking economic indicators locally and in specific industries, since they don’t always experience recessions at the same time and in the same way. Yet, he also cautioned that data and artificial intelligence usually don’t tell the whole story, especially for underserved borrowers where many other socioeconomic factors are at play.

Julie Huston, President and CEO of immito, a wholly owned subsidiary of LISC, reminded attendees of our common purpose as mission-driven lenders to never scale back during economic downturns but rather to lean in. She also shared economic indicators she finds useful for tracking economic trends, particularly Dun & Bradstreet’s small business predictive score. However, she also underscored Rapaport’s point that knowing a borrower’s personal story is just as important as the analytics.


Following the first portion of the closing plenary, former U.S. Secretary of Education and current Managing Partner at Emerson Collective Arne Duncan joined Lisa Mensah to discuss his “never give up” philosophy. It’s the driving force behind Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny), a program he founded to reduce gun violence and provide economic opportunity for young adults in Arne’s hometown of Chicago.

He said Chicago’s gun violence is not a crime problem but rather an economic problem, and talked about the contract manufacturing social enterprise Chicago CRED is launching this summer to increase the flow of jobs for participants in the organization’s programs.

In alignment with Teresa’s calls to action in the opening plenary, Arne urged small business lenders to spend time with underserved entrepreneurs they wish to serve: “The guys want change. They're tired of getting shot. They want something better... These guys are the solution to the problem, not the problem...And if we listen to them, if we walk with them, learn from them, they will lead Chicago to a better place.”  

After Lisa concluded the closing plenary, a group of attendees headed to The Hatchery, a local CDFI-funded project.



Mary Fran Riley, Senior Vice President of External Affairs at Accion Chicago, led a group of about 40 attendees on a tour of The Hatchery, a $34 million, 67,000-square-foot incubator for food entrepreneurs located in the Garfield Park neighborhood of West Side Chicago.

Built by Accion Chicago in partnership with Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago (ICNC) and a host of investors, The Hatchery provides shared and private certified commercial kitchen space for Chicago area food entrepreneurs. It also offers a community space. The owners of several small businesses operating out of the facility, including Latin Plate Catering, Pixie Dust Salts, Schweet Foods, and Justice of the Pies, shared their phenomenal products and inspiring stories with attendees.


Thank you to everyone who made the eighth annual Small Business Finance Forum such a productive and inspiring experience this year!

We also appreciate all those who helped get the word out on social media during the Forum about the great work CDFIs and other mission-driven lenders are doing to support underserved small businesses around the U.S.!




Check out CDFI Connect for this year’s session slides


Enjoy photos from Small Business Finance Forum 2019 on Facebook.

Small Business Finance Forum 2018 Recap

“OFN is thrilled to report that 2018’s Small Business Finance Forum—our convening of business lenders driven by a common mission of providing responsible financing to our nation’s underserved small businesses—has officially broken all prior year’s attendance records!” Lisa Mensah, OFN’s president and CEO, recently announced. 

At 530+ attendees, the seventh annual Small Business Finance Forum (June 26-27 in Chicago) was indeed record-breaking. Visit our blog post for a full recap, video recordings of both plenaries, and links to session PPTs in our small business community on CDFI Connect Community





Small Business Finance Forum 2018 Sponsors

Small Business Finance Forum 2017 Recap

The sixth annual Small Business Finance Forum (SBFF) welcomed more than 320 attendees to the Fairmount Chicago Millennium Park Hotel—including 202 CDFI practitioners from 40 states, seven foundation, 33 bank, and 12 government representatives, and five borrowers—making it the biggest SBFF yet. This year was also the first that we issued a call for sessions to the small business finance community, which means the sessions and discussions reflected pressing issues and topics on the minds of stakeholders across the ecosystem. And our Small Business Partner Showcase featured nine exhibitors that introduced their services, products, and software solutions to attendees.

Marking another milestone, it was also the first SBFF for OFN’s new President and CEO Lisa Mensah. Lisa opened the event by welcoming guests, and expressing her passion for small business—it is, she said, “The absolute epic story of hope, challenge, and, hopefully, success.” Thanking all the small business owners and lenders in the audience for their tenacity and impact on communities and individuals across the U.S., she urged everyone to: “Dig in, learn from one another, ask tough questions of one another and remember: America needs us all.”

Her words heralded the beginning of a day and a half of sessions and open discussions about small business lending, with special attention this year to supporting entrepreneurs of color.

Opening Plenary: Serving Entrepreneurs of Color

Moderators: Ted Archer, JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Manny Hidalgo, US Small Business Administration; Pam Porter, Opportunity Finance Network

Panelists: Connie Evans, AEO; and Joyce Klein, FIELD at the Aspen Institute; Citlali Mendieta-Ramos, Antigua Latin Restaurant; and Rashaad Washington, Pro Painter MKE and Pro Trade Job Development; Gary Cunningham, Meda; and Lenwood Long, Carolina Small Business Development Fund

The fastest growing segment of small businesses are businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color, particularly women of color. Yet, communities of color face more difficulties in starting and growing businesses than their white counterparts. Designed around three separate panel discussions, the plenary focused on both the obstacles entrepreneurs of colors face and how some business owners and CDFIs are working through or addressing these challenges.

The first panel looked at research. Moderator Ted Archer spoke with Connie Evans and Joyce Klein about their recent research on the black business marketplace and the role businesses owned by people of color can play in closing the growing racial wealth gap—AEO's The Tapestry of Black Business Ownership in America: Untapped Opportunities for Success and FIELD's Bridging the Divide: How Business Ownership Can Help Close the Racial Wealth Gap. The conversation began with what inspired each author to embark on her research. For Evans, it was a personal desire to change the conversation from only focusing on difficulties faced by entrepreneurs of color to showcasing the tremendous potential this sector of the market holds to create jobs and narrow the wealth gap. For example: 96 percent of black-owned businesses are sole proprietors with no employees. AEO’s research shows that if 15 percent of these sole proprietorships add two employees and four percent of employer firms add one employee, they could create 600,000 new jobs, which would drop the black unemployment rate down to five percent in the U.S.

Evans wanted, in part, to look at the body of strong academic literature on the racial wealth gap and interpret it in a way that’s more accessible—and actionable—for policy makers and CDFIs.

The second panel, moderated by Manny Hidalgo, offered the borrower perspective and gave the stage to Citlali Mendieta-Ramos and Rashaad Washington, both Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) borrowers from the Milwaukee area. The discussion touched on Mendieta-Ramos’s and Washington’s personal experiences with trying to access traditional financing, WWBIC’s support as a lender, business coach, and technical assistance provider, and the important role banks can play in CDFI small business lending, even when they’re unable to lend directly to an entrepreneur.

Moderated by Pam Porter, the final panel provided lender insight and successful practices from the ground from two CDFIs that work closely with entrepreneurs of color. Lenwood Long and Gary Cunningham talked about the intentional ways their CDFIs are attempting to move the needle on business lending to entrepreneurs of color. These approaches include partnerships with HBCUs, new products and programs, and collaboration with other CDFIs and business support organizations.


Lunch Keynote

Speaker: Mae Whiteside, President and CEO, CKL Engineers

Over lunch, we heard from keynote speaker Mae Whiteside, who founded and runs her own civil engineering firm in Chicago. She related the challenges she encountered in her journey from city employee to consultant to the owner of her own firm whose projects have included construction on major highways and airport facilities in the city. When her bank and other lenders turned her away, she found a partner in CNI Micro Finance Group, an OFN Ally, who extended a loan and other services. Her business went from $200,000 in sales to $1.2 million in sales. One of Mae’s resounding messages: “It’s important to have lenders that look like you, talk like you, think like you,” Mae said. “It’s a matter of trust.”


Photo Album

Visit us on Facebook for a fun look at photos from the event. If you see yourself in a photo, tag yourself or your CDFI!


Five Myths of Business Lending Innovation
Patrick Davis, Community Reinvestment Fund; Prashant Reddy, Demyst Data; Shaolee Sen, Accion US Network; and Kate Mirkin,

Download presentation.

Learnings from the Diverse Community Capital Program: A Value Proposition for Small Business Lenders
Alexandra Jaskula-Ranga, Opportunity Finance Network; Sarah Bennett, Wells Fargo; Jen Leybovich, Main Street Launch; Jasmine Gebon, BBIF; and Paul Hoffman, Pathway Lending

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The Essentials of Small Business Underwriting
Myra Jordan, Accion New Mexico and Leslie Hoffman, LEH Consulting Group

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Creating Innovative Financial Solutions through Collaboration
Jimmie Williams, Just Us Lawn Care, Inc.; Fred Tetter, Fab Tech, Inc.; Keith Rachey, Community Reinvestment Fund; and David Johnson, Accion Chicago

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The SBA session should be: SBA’s Community Advantage Pilot Loan Program and the Secondary Market for Mission-based Lenders
Chris Webb, US Small Business Administration

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Beyond Access to Capital: Supporting Small Business Owners’ Economic Stability
Shaolee Sen, Accion US Network; Eric Weaver, Opportunity Fund; Chris Wheat, JPMorgan Chase Institute; and Ted Archer, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

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Expanding CDFI Liquidity and CDFI New Product Offering
Daniel Galindo, Woodforest National Bank; Tammy Halevy, AEO; Joshua Brackett, ACE; Nelly Rojas Moreno, LiftFund; and Adam Hoeksema,

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Simplifying the Customer Journey: Technology and Standardization to Help Business Owners
Patrick Davis, Community Reinvestment Fund; Susan Lamping, CDC Small Business Finance; Alex Dang, Opportunity Fund; Celina Pena, LiftFund; Steve Cohen, Excelsior Growth Fund

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Empowering African American Small Businesses, Eliminating Barriers, and Building Wealth
Robert W. Davenport, NDC; Michael Obi, National Urban League's Urban Empowerment Fund; Marsha Mockabee, Urban League of Greater Cleveland; and Alice Vilma, Morgan Stanley

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Increasing Small Business Lending: Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Financing Initiative
Pam Porter, Opportunity Finance Network; Cristina Shapiro, Goldman Sachs; Donald Harrington, Carolina Small Business Development Fund; Dan Betancourt, Community First Fund; Robert Porter, Pacific Community Ventures; and Chuck Hurst, Northern Initiatives

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Optimizing the Loan Origination Process: Best Practices and Lessons Learned
Nick Elders, Community Reinvestment Fund; Michael Lattery, Entrepreneur Fund; and Kathy Leone, Northern Initiatives

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Small Business Finance Forum 2017 Sponsors

Small Business Finance Forum 2016 Recap

OFN's 2016 Small Business Finance Forum drew a record crowd, and featured a partnership with the SBA Microloan Intermediaries Training program. More than 400 with representatives from 144 CDFIs, 11 banks, 7 federal and local government agencies, and 39 foundations, consulting firms, and other industry stakeholders.

The hot topic throughout the Forum was hearing from the borrower's perspective. With insights on what the predatory lending landscape really looks like, to why it is critical for CDFIs and other mission-driven lenders to innovate within the industry in order to reach small businesses, there was a significant sense that the need for affordable capital for small businesses, as well as the support and technical assistance that CDFIs provide, has never been more important.

Kurt Summers, Treasurer of the City of Chicago, kicked us off with personal stories of the small business needs in the City of Chicago, as well as nationwide. He shared about the local need for access to capital, citing specifically the decrease in traditional lending to small businesses, which has created an increase in the advent of the online lenders without regulation. Summers called on more transparency for businesses and that in Chicago and Illinois they want CDFIs and other mission-driven lenders to thrive and be examples of leadership in lending to small businesses.

Opening Plenary: The Small Business Environment Today; Putting the Borrower First
Moderator: Donna Fabiaini, Opportunity Finance Network Panelists: Cristina Shapiro, Goldman Sachs; Patti Greene, Babson College; Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel aka Chef T, Small Business Owner; Derrick Earls, Small Business Owner; Dory Rand, Woodstock Institute; Lauren Stebbins, Opportunity Finance Network; and Grady Hedgespeth, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

At the opening plenary, Cristina Shapiro, Goldman Sachs, and Patti Green, Babson College, shared new data from a Babson College National Survey of Small Businesses, The State of Small Business in America 2016. The report is about advancing the conversation around small businesses who are growth oriented, and their presentation focused on the need for capital—they found that small businesses receive less than half of the amounts they request. The findings also emphasize the needs for technical assistance and this is where CDFIs excel. The report shows that small business owners want more flexible terms, fair and transparent terms, smaller loan sizes, and also a desire to make the paperwork process less cumbersome.

Two small business owners shared their experience with marketplace lenders, both who experienced the ramifications of taking a loan from a predatory lender. Derrick Earls shared how he would make the same choice again given the circumstances, and the need to take care of the families of his employees. He took a predatory loan that required daily payments immediately. Even knowing it was the wrong option, he shared he would do so again given the circumstances, knowing he needed the deal closed quickly to meet payroll needs. Chef T also shared that his predatory loan charged him an interest rate of 75%, to meet the need of an emergency repair for his business. To repay the loan Chef T took a second job as an Uber driver.

Dory Rand, Woodstock Institute, shared insights from new data on the terms online, nonbank lenders are offering based on a review of 15 loans. Of the common elements they found that most were for under $40,000. Nearly all took a daily debit, and that the effective interest rates ranged between 109% and 367% for loans under 200 days. The result of loans is debt traps for the small business borrower.

In light of the lack of transparency out there, and the kind of data that small business owners need to make better borrowing decisions, the plenary created the perfect space to announce the launch of Venturize. Lauren Stebbins, Opportunity Finance Network, took the stage to launch OFN's new online, mobile-friendly resource that provides tools and information for small business owners with no strings attached. The site aims to reach more than 250,000 small business owners in an effort to help them make better borrowing decisions for their business.

Finally Grady Hedgespeth, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, shared how they CFPB is looking to collect data on small business loans to put definition and clarity on the small business lending landscape. He ended with a hopeful message that through finding information we can shine light on the practices in the industry, who is affected by it, and what can be done.


Over lunch we heard inspiring remarks form SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, who shared insights from her personal life, as well as a look at what the SBA is doing to connect small business owners to capital in disinvested neighborhoods. Among the highlights, she shared about the exponential growth of the 7 (a) program, and the increased capacity of the Community Advantage program, which was recently extended to 2020. She championed CDFIs as “bailout specialists” who help borrowers find ways to expand and sustain after dealing with predatory lenders, or when they are faced with a lack of access to traditional capital.

You can see more of her commentary from the live blog of the Forum or Listen to the recording.

Photo Gallery

Click here to view the photo gallery on our Facebook page.


Here is a sampling of the sessions offered during the 2016 Forum.

Small Business Lending Landscape
Moderator: Pam Porter, Opportunity Finance Network
Panelists: Nick Elders, Community Reinvestment Fund; Bryan Doxford, Excelsior Growth Fund; and Robert Lopez, VEDC

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Hiring and Supporting Reentering Citizens
Session Leaders: Gregory B. Fairchild, Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Virginia, and Tierney Temple Fairchild, Resilience Education
Download the presentation

Building Your Value Proposition
Moderator: Ginger McNally, Opportunity Finance Network
Panelists: Greg Henderson, Accion AZ·CO·NM·NV·TX; Ben Wright, Montana CDC; and Wanda Speight, PIDC Community Capital

Download the presentation

Strategic Growth in Microlending (for SBA Microloan Program Intermediaries)
Session Leader: Barbara Eckblad, The Eckblad Group
Download the presentation

What's Next for Federal Support of Small Business Lending?
Moderator: Dafina Williams, Opportunity Finance Network
Panelists: Jeff Stout, State Small Business Credit Initiative; Jamie Davenport, SBA; and James Barham, USDA

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Helping Reentering Citizens Become Entrepreneurs (optional for Microloan Program Intermediaries)
Session Leaders: Gregory B. Fairchild, Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Virginia, and Tierney Temple Fairchild, Resilience Education
Download the presentation

Job Quality in Low-Income Communities: Can CDFIs Move the Needle?
Presenters: Daniel Brett, PCV Insight; Jim Buerger, Community First Fund; John Egan, CEI; Donna Fabiani, Opportunity Finance Network; and Sean Murphy, Fund Good Jobs
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Learnings from the Diverse Community Capital Program
Moderator: Alex Jaskula, Opportunity Finance Network
Panelists: Connie Smith, Wells Fargo; Don Harrington, The Support Center; Bob Porter, Pacific Community Ventures; and Patrick Pariseau, MEDA

Download the presentation

Technology Platforms for Improving Efficiencies
Moderator: Seth Julyan, Opportunity Finance Network
Panelists: Steve Cohen, Excelsior Growth Fund; Nick Elders, Community Reinvestment Fund; and Joyce Klein, FIELD

Download the presentation

Holistic Technical Assistance
Presenters: Barbara Eckblad, Eckblad Group; Leslie Hoffman, LEH Consulting Group; Agnes Cheung, Working Solutions
Download the presentation

Small Business Finance Forum 2016 Sponsors

Small Business Finance Forum 2015 Recap

OFN’s 2015 Small Business Finance Forum drew a record crowd, with representatives from 70 CDFIs, 7 banks, 3 federal and local government agencies, foundations, consulting firms, and—for the first time—representatives from alternative marketplace lenders and brokers.

The hot topic throughout the Forum was the role CDFIs and other mission-driven lenders play in today’s rapidly changing world of small business finance: how can they do more, how can they do better, and who can they collaborate with to get the work done?

The SBA’s Chicago District Director Bo Steiner set the stage with a simple statistic: before the Great Recession, the average SBA loan in Illinois was $100,000; post-recession, it is $400,000, leaving a huge gap for non-bank lenders to fill. This is the gap nationwide that alternative marketplace lenders and brokers—as well as CDFIs and other mission-driven lenders—are trying to fill.

Opening Plenary: Responsible Lending in Today’s Small Business Finance Environment
Moderator: Mark Pinsky, Opportunity Finance Network
Panelists: Jonathan Brereton, Accion Chicago; Kausar Hamdani, Federal Reserve Bank of New York; and Roxanne Nava, City of Chicago

At the opening plenary, Kausar Hamdani of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Jonathan Brereton of Accion Chicago, Roxanne Nava of the City of Chicago, and OFN’s President and CEO Mark Pinsky discussed the toll that some online lenders’ products and practices are having on the nation’s small businesses. Brereton reported that at least weekly if not daily, a business owner in trouble with an online loan comes to Accion for help and that, just as consumer-focused CDFIs did during the mortgage crisis, Accion will have to add more counseling services to help their clients avoid or get out of problematic loans.


Attendees continued the opening plenary discussion in small breakout sessions. In a session on educating small business owners about irresponsible lending, a Chicago business owner shared his story of getting into such a product and the negative impact that daily loan payments have had on his business. In a session on how CDFIs are responding to the proliferation of online lenders and brokers, NYBDC Local Development Corporation and Opportunity Fund explained how they vetted two of these entities and are partnering with them to expand their own lending to the most vulnerable businesses.

In a session on effectively reaching minority-owned businesses, representatives from Black Business Investment Fund of Florida, VEDC, and the Minority Business Development Agency talked about the disparities in personal wealth, business experience, and business networks that create barriers for minority-owned businesses. They talked about what it takes to successfully serve this hard-to-reach market: targeted outreach, more post-loan technical assistance, additional services such as mentoring and network-building, and more flexible credit terms.

Photo Gallery


Effectively Reaching Minority-owned Businesses
Moderator: Donna Fabiani, Opportunity Finance Network
Panelists: Roberto Barragan, VEDC; Inez Long, Black Business Investment Fund (BBIF) Florida; and Jean-Robert (JR) Baguidy, Minority Business Development Agency

This session will cover the range of challenges CDFIs and other mission-driven lenders face in providing financing to minority-owned businesses, and how to overcome those challenges. We'll start with the business owners, many of whom are first generation entrepreneurs with little business experience that tend to mirror their general population's relative gap in personal wealth. Then we will look at the lenders' ability to access adequate equity capital, debt capital, and operating grants to serve this market. We will talk about some of the capacity building resources available to minority-owned businesses and leave plenty of time for discussion so that attendees can share their experiences and solutions.

Download the presentation.

Growth Strategies for Small Business Lenders
Moderator: Pam Porter, Opportunity Finance Network
Panelists: Members of the Small Business Finance Collaborative

The Small Business Finance Collaborative is a group of 24 mission-driven small business lenders, all of which focus on aggressively growing their small business lending. In this session, several Collaborative members will share their growth strategies and how they were developed, providing attendees with a range of approaches they can consider for their own organizations.

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Measuring the Impact of Your Small Business Activities
Moderator: Seth Julyan, Opportunity Finance Network
Panelists: Art Clinger, Bridgeway Capital; Sadaf Knight, The Support Center; and Caitlin McShane, Opportunity Fund

Learn how three CDFIs are measuring and achieving the impact of their small business activities. This open and interactive session will explore how CDFIs are collecting this important data, how they are using the data, and if CDFIs can improve the overall efficiency of measuring their impact.

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Commercial Real Estate Lending for Small Businesses
Moderator: Dan Betancourt, Community First Fund
Panelists: Jim Buerger, Community First Fund, and Jane Bittcher, Bridgeway Capital

Two CDFIs will share underwriting practices and case studies to help CDFIs and other mission-driven lenders find ways to finance commercial real estate properties for existing and prospective small business borrowers. By accessing a variety of financing tools and partnerships, lenders can help small business borrowers benefit from the purchase of commercial real estate properties, promoting owner occupancy, helping to stabilize the business and the neighborhood, and potentially creating new income streams through rental of residential and office spaces.

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Funding Options for the SBA Community Advantage (CA) Program
Moderator: Chuck Evans, PrudentLenders
Panelists: Sarah Bennett, Wells Fargo; Cristina Shapiro, Goldman Sachs; Ekaterina Shirley, Bank of America; Sarah Fitzgerald, Montana CDC and Robert Villarreal, CDC Small Business Finance

This session is designed to provide CA lenders with a range of funding options to sustain a successful CA program. Two CA lenders will share their funding strategies and three banks will discuss the financing products they offer to CA lenders. Attendees will be encouraged to share their own successful strategies as well as ask questions of the panel.

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Mission-driven Lenders and the Alternative Lending Market
Moderator: Daniel Delehanty, Capital One
Panelists: Bryan Doxford, NYBDC Local Development Corporation; and Caitlin McShane, Opportunity Fund

The online small business lending marketplace has exploded over the past few years and is expected to grow exponentially in the next decade. Recently, a few CDFIs have made the decision to partner with responsible online lenders and brokers. In this session, you’ll learn about two of these partnerships, how the CDFIs selected their partners, and what outcomes they expect to see. In addition to providing valuable insights into these two examples, this session will explore the benefits of these partnerships from an industry perspective.

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Targeting Veteran-owned Small Businesses
Moderator: Robert (Bo) Steiner, Small Business Administration
Panelists: Gary Lindner, PeopleFund; and Ed Timberlake, The Support Center

Several small business lenders have developed training and lending products for veterans and their businesses. In this session, two CDFIs that are run by veterans, PeopleFund in Texas and The Support Center in North Carolina, will share the elements of their highly successful veteran programs. Each of these CDFIs counts 20% of their small business loan portfolios to veterans. Learn what they’re doing, why they’ve been successful, and how your organization can grow its loan portfolio by replicating elements of these programs.

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Community Advantage Roundtable
Presenters: Grady Hedgespeth and Jamie Davenport, SBA

This session is geared toward active Community Advantage (CA) lenders and those with CA licenses. The SBA will provide an update on program performance as well as recent and anticipated developments including LINC, SBA One, SBA’s credit scoring system, and the long-awaited Participant Guide 4.0. In addition, we anticipate a lively discussion on ways to continue to make smaller and smaller CA loans cost effectively. OEO Director Hedgespeth believes the future of CA lies in figuring out ways to do this at significant scale. CA lenders will also have the opportunity to share what’s working (and what’s not) and ask each other for solutions to their challenges.

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Re-imagining the Role of Business Technical Assistance
Presenters: Barbara Eckblad and Jason Friedman, Friedman Associates, and Sara Razavi, Working Solutions

The CDFI industry has clear standards, guidelines, and metrics for the operation of a loan fund. We cannot say the same for business technical assistance. Why? Technical assistance is a key strategy to support portfolio performance and mission. It requires a formal structure to sufficiently support loan clients’ path to sustainability and growth. In this session, practitioners will explore the concept of TA as a “product” which is “sold” at loan closing. Presenters will discuss the components of effective technical assistance, present a method for capturing business outcomes, share successful models, and encourage attendees to share their own experiences.

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Building Your Pipeline
Moderator: Seth Julyan, Opportunity Finance Network
Panelists: Clint Gwin, Pathway Lending, and Victor Elmore, Texas Mezzanine Fund

Developing a strong and robust pipeline is one of the biggest challenges for CDFI small business lenders. In this session, hear from two CDFIs that have been successful in substantially growing their pipeline and portfolio over the past three years. Learn how these CDFIs were successful as they share their insights.

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Small Business Finance Forum 2015 Sponsors

Small Business Finance Forum 2014 Recap

At the 2014 Forum in June, more than 100 CDFIs, other mission-driven lend­ers, and partners—including the SBA, major banks, and other funders and investors—spent a day and a half learning and discussing issues of importance to them and the small business market. The agenda included introductory to advanced-level sessions on topics such as tracking job creation and retention, federal programs including the SBA’s Community Advantage Program and the Treasury’s State Small Business Credit Initiative, participation lending, loan sales, and providing technical assistance to small businesses. New this year, we offered user group sessions with the leading loan monitoring software vendors.

This was a unique opportunity for small business lenders and their partners to forge business relationships and build skills that can help in the achievement of growth goals. Session presentations, discussions, and networking provided a wealth of information to new and experienced small business lenders alike. Links to the the audio recording of the opening plenary and the breakout session presentations can be found below.


Opening Plenary: Are Small Businesses the New Predatory Lending Target?
Steve Daniels, Crain’s Chicago Business (moderator); Eric Weaver, Opportunity Fund; and Brian Graham, Alliance Partners

CDFIs and mission-driven lenders are committed to providing responsible, affordable financing to small businesses that benefit low-income, low-wealth, and other disadvantaged people and communities. Today, these same small businesses are being courted by a plethora of brokers, factors, online business lenders, and other lenders offering easy access to credit, sometimes with short terms, high interest rates, high fees, and less than transparent marketing. Are we seeing early signs that small businesses are the new predatory lending target? How do we know? And how should CDFIs, other mission-centered lenders, and their stakeholders respond? 


Capitalization: The State Small Business Credit Initiative
Dafina Williams, Opportunity Finance Network (moderator); Cliff Kellogg, US Department of the Treasury; Bob Isaacson, State of Minnesota; and John Berdes, Craft3

According to the US Department of the Treasury, CDFIs have been significant users of the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), issuing more than 40% of all direct SSBCI loans and investments through 2012. A January 2014 Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness report suggests that states that work through CDFIs and other mission lenders have the greatest success reaching underserved borrowers. Find out how they’ve done it and why you’ll want to research your own state’s SSBCI program to see if you qualify. Cliff Kellogg, the US Treasury’s Director of SSBCI and two CDFIs that have used the program will tell you what you need to know.

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Collaborations for Capital
Lolita Sereleas, FUND Consulting (moderator); Ceyl Prinster, Colorado Enterprise Fund; and Chuck Hurst, Northern Initiatives

Small business lenders are collaborating with local governments, the private sector, and philanthropic institutions to create new sources of capital to benefit small businesses in their communities. In this session you’ll learn about several innovative programs, some of which you might be able to replicate in your own communities.

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Delivering Technical Assistance to Small Businesses
Daniel Delehanty, Capital One (moderator); Kendra Ott, Pacific Community Ventures; and Dave Glaser, Montana CDC

In this session you’ll gain exposure to a range of approaches to providing one-on-one technical assistance to small businesses. You’ll learn about new online tools that can help you diagnose your clients’ needs so that you can target your assistance accordingly. Learn from experienced TA providers and add your successes to the conversation.

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Introduction to Community Advantage
Grady Hedgespeth, U.S. Small Business Administration, and Dave Glaser, Montana CDC 

Private investors pay more than $1 million for an SBA license. With Community Advantage (CA), SBA is giving these licenses free to CDFIs to make SBA 7(a) guaranteed loans up to $250,000 targeted to businesses in underserved communities. In this introductory session, Grady Hedgespeth, Director of the SBA Office of Economic Opportunity, will explain and answer your questions related to how the program works, the difference between participating as a lender or an associate, and the advantages of becoming part of the CA Network brand.

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Maximize Your Customer Acquisition
Pam Porter, Opportunity Finance Network (moderator); John Kropf, Growth Capital Corp.; and Hosheus (OC) Isaac, New York Business Development Corp.

Acquiring qualified borrowers is one of the biggest challenges for small business lenders. In this session, lenders with particular strengths in customer acquisition will share strategies that can help you attract more qualified small business clients.

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Measuring Impact: Lessons on Job Creation and Retention from Create Jobs for USA
Donna Fabiani, Opportunity Finance Network; Tamra Thetford, The Aspen Institute

Through the OFN-Starbucks’ Create Jobs for USA initiative, OFN collected detailed job creation and retention data from more than 100 CDFIs. OFN contracted the CDFI Assessment and Rating System (CARS) to review awardees’ data collection methodologies. In this session, OFN will share what we learned about CDFIs’ policies and practices with respect to jobs data and engage participants in a discussion on how to move the field forward in collecting robust and meaningful jobs impact data.

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Small Business Finance Forum 2014 Sponsors