Last week we held OFN’s fifth annual Small Business Finance Forum in Chicago—our best attended, most productive one yet!!  

We opened with inspiring words from City of Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers, whose passion about stopping predatory online business lending practices was a perfect segue into our opening plenary discussion, The Small Business Lending Environment: Putting the Borrower First. Small business owners Derrick Earls and “Chef T” shared their experiences with online loans— including a loan with a 75 percent interest rate in one case— and the sobering conclusion that they would do it again if they had no other option. Adding to the conversation, Dory Rand shared a Woodstock Institute analysis of online loan term sheets where four of the 15 loans had effective interest rates in excess of 300 Percent.

Grady Hedgespeth, formerly with the US Small Business Administration and now at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, shared the good news that the CFPB is starting to look into the small business lending market. And OFN’s Lauren Stebbins was on hand to launch Venturize, OFN’s online education campaign to help small business owners make better borrowing decisions by providing them with the tools and resources to assess their options.

At lunch, SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet captivated us with her personal story and her commitment to helping the nation’s small businesses, particularly those in disinvested markets.

New this year, OFN partnered with the SBA Microloan Program Intermediaries to provide a learning track for attendees to receive their required biannual training while gaining exposure to the Forum, including opportunities to network and attend breakout sessions.

Breakout sessions covered an array of topics, from the latest CDFI efforts to compete with online lenders through technology partnerships (e.g., Excelsior and Mirador; Accion and CloudLending), to how CDFIs can reach more under-collateralized businesses through the SBA’s Community Advantage loan guarantee, to helping reentering citizens move from prison to entrepreneurship.

All session materials will be available on our website next week.


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