KXCI Features CIC and Startup Tucson

In this episode of Nonprofit Spotlight, Stephanie Engs talks with Danny Knee, the Executive Director of the Community Investment Corporation (CIC), and Keneshia Raymond, Director of Programs and Access to Capital at Startup Tucson. They discuss the partnership between Start Up Tucson and the CIC supporting the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund as well as TENWEST.

Listen to the Nonprofit Spotlight at KXCI.org.

Empowering Families: A Discussion On Informed School Selection

Check out this insightful open discussion dedicated to strategies communities can take to help families navigate the diverse educational landscape. This session, centered on families and students, was led by Scott Evans, Director of Family and School Engagement

BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund Celebrates Two Years of Impact and Expands Partnerships with Growth Partners Arizona and Startup Tucson

Two years after launching an innovative loan fund in collaboration with leaders of color in the Tucson business community, Community Investment Corporation (CIC) and the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Community Managed Loan Fund are celebrating their 50th no-interest loan. The fund, which focuses on improving capital access to entrepreneurs of color, has made over $400,000 in loans to date across Southern Arizona.

The celebration also marks an expansion of two key partnerships with local nonprofit organizations, Growth Partners Arizona and Startup Tucson. For its part, Startup Tucson is creating the first paid position for what has, to date, been an all-volunteer management committee, while Growth Partners Arizona will be expanding the fund’s lending footprint in 2024 to central and northern Arizona through a $250,000 grant from Wells Fargo. The expansion will include targeted outreach to rural BIPOC entrepreneurs.

Growth Partners Arizona, a certified Community Development Financial Institution, recently invested $100,000 in the BIPOC Loan Fund to serve southern Arizona and have now committed another $250,000 to expand the fund’s lending footprint to the entire state. The $250,000 comes from a grant from Wells Fargo and supports the bank’s work to accelerate the growth of underserved small businesses across the country through investments that increase access to capital, expand entrepreneurial networks, and provide access to knowledge through technical assistance and capacity building resources.

This investment is a part of our larger focus to expand innovative lending programs throughout the state of Arizona. Thanks to the funding from our partners at Wells Fargo we will be able to start the new year off making a significant investment within our rural communities. As we look ahead to the future we are excited to continue to build towards a more inclusive economy.

Startup Tucson, a Tucson-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to revolutionize the Southern Arizona region’s economy through entrepreneurship and innovation, is committing part of the time of their Director of Entrepreneur Success and Access to Capital, Keneshia Raymond, to helping expand the fund’s impact. Raymond is a founding committee member of the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund and will become the BIPOC Loan Fund’s first funded staff person.

Raymond will play a pivotal role in spearheading this initiative and expanding its reach, resources, and impact. Raymond will collaborate closely with CIC to develop comprehensive strategies, promote awareness, secure funding, and provide strong leadership to ensure the BIPOC Loan Fund’s continued growth and sustainability.

Startup Tucson recognizes the pressing need within the community for equitable and accessible access to capital for BIPOC business owners. “At Startup Tucson we champion the BIPOC Loan Fund and wholeheartedly support its mission to empower underrepresented entrepreneurs and foster a more inclusive and vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.” said Raymond. Raymond background includes 14 years as an entrepreneur and business coach who, in addition to her duties at Startup Tucson, runs her own online company, has raised over $8 million of investment for small businesses, and successfully exited a previous business.

“Keneshia’s experience as an entrepreneur and her leadership within the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund has been truly exceptional,” said CIC’s Executive Director, Danny Knee. “She is forward-thinking with a vision to activate the sidelined economic power of underrepresented entrepreneurs within our community whose businesses have suffered from underinvestment.”

The BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund is an example of character-based lending, an underwriting approach through which a borrower’s personal qualities, community reputation, and other factors beyond credit scores and collateral are given greater emphasis. Its volunteer committee of BIPOC community leaders has complete authority over the loan fund including defining the application process and underwriting criteria to assess loan viability. In the loan product design phase, the committee identified specific obstacles to capital access for BIPOC communities which included distrust of the traditional financial institutions, overly complicated application processes, and banking’s over-reliance on collateral and credit scores to make loan approval determinations. A low-barrier application allows business owners to apply via video or audio as well as in writing.

“One of the largest challenges for entrepreneurs, especially BIPOC entrepreneurs, in our region is access to capital,” said said Liz Pocock, CEO, Startup Tucson. “The trailblazing work of CIC and the BIPOC Loan Fund strengthens our economy, and we couldn’t be prouder to call them a partner and support the future longevity of the Fund and its mission.”

As the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund continues to pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable business landscape, this partnership with Startup Tucson reinforces the collective commitment to driving positive change and advancing economic empowerment in Southern Arizona. On Friday, September 15th, CIC and Startup Tucson will be hosting a 2 year Celebration of the BIPOC Loan Fund Celebration at Hotel McCoy from 5:30pm-7:30pm. Festivities will include acknowledging the programs’ milestones and partnerships, amplifying the talent and hard work of program participants, and connecting within our community.

For more information about the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund and its partnership with Startup Tucson and Growth Partners Arizona, please visit the program website, here.

About CIC: Community Investment Corporation (CIC) is a financial empowerment nonprofit. We give the members of our community, who are shut out of and left behind in our economy, access to the knowledge and financing they need to pursue new opportunities. CIC unlocks the door to prosperity for all members of our community to meaningfully participate in our powerful but imperfect capitalist economic system and reclaim the American Dream. At CIC, WE KNOW YOUR WORTH. The system may not recognize your value, but we do. Learn more about our loan, homeownership, and school bond compliance programs at CICTucson.org.

About Startup Tucson: Startup Tucson is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to transform our region’s economy through entrepreneurship and innovation. Startup Tucson executes this mission by providing education and culture-building programs and events to grow a high-impact entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem. You can find information about the organization and upcoming opportunities to engage at startuptucson.com.

About Growth Partners Arizona: About Growth Partners Arizona Growth Partners Arizona is the largest Black-led Arizona-based CDFI that provides affordable, responsible financial products to local underserved communities. As a trusted intermediary between the public and private sectors, Growth Partner Arizona aims to achieve economic justice through forward thinking, collaborative, and inclusive approaches to capital access in Arizona. We are committed to building a more inclusive economy that works for everyone. For more information visit: growthpartnersaz.org.

Funds Available for Small Businesses to Go ‘Green’

by Kimber Lanning, Andre Whittington, and Danny Knee

As our country prepares to spend billions of dollars in new funding on environmental efforts, America is sitting on a gold mine in the fight against climate change, and we need to do something about it.

The opportunity lies with small businesses.

Many small-business owners want to be more environmentally friendly — and all are interested in saving money. Implementing simple changes like LED lights to large projects like installing solar panels can make a big difference to both our planet and businesses’ bottom lines.

The size of the opportunity is huge.

In Arizona, nearly 600,000 companies have fewer than 20 employees; nationwide, it’s more than 26 million. That’s 98% of all U.S. firms.

Barriers to Small Businesses Going ‘Green’

But small-business owners are stretched thin.

They often juggle everything from marketing to purchasing to accounting, duties that corporations have whole teams to handle. Adding “Chief Sustainability Officer” to a small-business owner’s “to-do” list can seem daunting.

Another challenge is the capital to carry out “green” projects.

Rarely do small businesses have a few hundred or thousand dollars to spare for sustainability upgrades, even when the investment will save them as much or more money in the long run.

The new environmental tax incentives offered by the Inflation Reduction Act alone may recover the cost of some projects.

And yet, big banks will laugh a small business out the door for seeking a modest loan “just” to conserve water and energy or require burdensome hoops for the business to jump through.

Boot Camp Helps Businesses Create Plan to Save

Thankfully, there is a solution.

Local First Arizona’s Green Business Boot Camp has helped hundreds of local business owners cut their water, energy, waste and transportation usage by 20% or more with simple adjustments, often leading to thousands of dollars in savings.

For example, Green Business Boot Camp graduate Pines Inn & Suites in Cottonwood is installing motion-sensor thermostats to keep air-conditioning costs down when rooms are vacant.

Phoenix restaurant Duck & Decanter is conserving major amounts of water by putting in low-flow toilets and upgraded kitchen equipment.

And Tucson dessert shop Frozen Delight has turned to recyclable packaging.

Photo credit: Kylee Musslewhite with permission from Frozen Delight

Affordable Loans to Finance the ‘Green’ Transition

In addition to education and support from the boot camp, our Green Business Micro-Loans provide the financial runway for small businesses to afford these changes.

With these loans, boot camp graduates in six Arizona counties can get help paying for sustainability improvements at low-interest rates through a short application process.

In Maricopa and Yavapai counties, the newly launched Green Loan Fund, made possible by Growth Partners Arizona and Vitalyst Health Foundation, provides loans to eligible local businesses up to $10,000 at 3% interest, which businesses pay back entirely with savings generated by their sustainability projects, so their cash flow is uninterrupted.

In Pima County, the Green Community Fund, created in partnership with Community Investment Corporation, provides up to $15,000 at 0–5% interest.

And in Graham, Greenlee and Cochise counties, small businesses can receive loans up to $25,000 at 7% interest through Community Investment Corporation for “green” as well as other projects.

More Funding Needed for Small Businesses to Meet Climate Goals

One of the best things about these micro-loans is how easy they are to obtain.

Whereas traditional banks may require years of financial statements, credit scores and collateral to extend credit, these funds rely on “character-based” lending.

A free energy and water audit conducted by Local First plus an explanation of how the money will be used, the anticipated savings and the local business’ support in the community is all that is asked.

Kevin Ticer, owner of Custom Upholstery Services in Safford, said applying was a snap. “It was easy to go through the micro-loan process,” he said. “After a couple of meetings with the loan committee, I was approved and able to invest in the equipment and remodeling that I needed.”

But loan programs like these need more funding to fully power the shifts small businesses must make in the coming years.

If we don’t invest to help local entrepreneurs become more sustainable, it will cost us all eventually.

Recognizing the motherlode that small businesses hold to achieve progress toward climate goals is the first step for our society. Obtaining more funding — whether from government, private foundations or donors — is our next responsibility.

Kimber Lanning is the CEO of Local First Arizona. Andre Whittington is the executive director of Growth Partners Arizona. Danny Knee is the executive director of Community Investment Corporation.

CIC is Lighting the Night

Join CIC in bringing light to the darkness of cancer!

Community Investment Corporation (CIC) is proud to partner with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) for Light The Night! We are fundraising for the cause, and will be lighting the night in Tucson, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Seattle. The Tucson team will be Lighting the Night on October 22.

We hope that you join us!

As a nonprofit, especially one focused on boosting our community, we are passionate about partnering with other nonprofits who also do good in the community.

That is why CIC will match donations up to $250 PER PERSON!

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Why are we doing this?

CIC is a nonprofit dedicated to financial empowerment. We believe no person who has to undergo cancer treatments should be financially paralyzed in the process. Life-saving treatment should not come at such a high monetary cost for the patients and we are hoping our efforts will ease that burden.

If you want to support LLS and Light the Night but are not able to make it to the walk, consider making a contribution on the CIC team’s fundraising page! Thank you for supporting us and our partners!

Tucson Information Technology Alliance

Cybersecurity Skills Training to Underserved Seeking Jobs in Booming Industry

CIC is excited to be a part of the Tucson Information Technology Alliance, a partnership between Tucson-based tech accelerator Go For VerticalTransmosis Corporation, and CIC offering underserved adults in the Tucson area an opportunity to train for high-growth information technology careers. The scholarships are provided thanks to an Economic & Workforce Development Grant awarded to the Tucson Information Technology Skills Alliance by the City of Tucson. 

The Alliance’s intensive information technology training program will be offered to residents of the Tucson area with a focus on the unemployed, underserved, minorities, veterans, and low-wage career changers. 

Using a proprietary virtual training model created by Transmosis, a nationally-recognized cybersecurity workforce developer, the program enables applicants to become rapidly trained in employer-driven information technology skills that can lead to industry certifications and employment. 

“The need for a highly trained, agile and robust technology workforce is evident in Tucson, where talent is often imported into the region rather than focusing on development of the local workforce. Meeting this demand for qualified local IT professionals can change that trend, and is crucial for attracting and keeping businesses with continued job and wage growth,” says Edward Cruz, CEO of Go For Vertical. 

Tucson has witnessed a booming 90 percent growth in technology jobs and a 29 percent growth in tech job wages over the last several years. However, employers continue to struggle to fill the open positions with local qualified candidates, according to Tucson Business Insider

Tucson Information Technology Skills Alliance Partners

Transmosis is a nationally recognized cybersecurity workforce developer that enables American workers to develop new careers in the rapidly growing information security industry. Transmosis is the creator of transmosisONE, a Fortune 5000 cybersecurity platform designed to protect small businesses/SMBs from cyber attack with integrated cyber liability coverage.

Go For Vertical is a Tucson-based technology and venture accelerator with a mission to help the Southern Arizona region develop a robust innovation ecosystem. With a focus on startups, nonprofits and enterprise clients, G4V has grown from a small group based in Tucson to an expanded team of over 100 consultants and engineers based both in the US and overseas delivering global technology and business solutions.  

BIPOC Loan Inaugural Recipients Announced

CIC couldn’t be more thrilled to announce the business owners selected to participate in the first ever BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund! This fund was carefully designed to serve Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs in Southern Arizona with 0% interest microloans, ranging from $500 to $10,000.

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