Founded more than 30 years ago as Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, GROW is rebranding as Grow. For one, the organization has been serving folks of all genders for quite some time, and two, Grow provides services to entrepreneurs and small businesses not only in Grand Rapids but also across nine West Michigan counties — Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo and Ottawa. Funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and a member of the Association of Women’s Business Centers, as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Grow provides loans to small business owners at every stage of their development. A program of the U.S. Department of Treasury, CDFIs can be banks, credit unions, loan funds, microloan funds or venture capital providers that foster economic opportunity and revitalize neighborhoods.
“As a 30-plus year organization, exclusively serving women was the original intent. Throughout the years, since we became an SBA intermediary and a CDFI, it was not exclusively for women. We're also living in a space where not everyone prescribes to a gender binary,” says Milinda Ysasi, CEO of Grow. “What we really wanted to do with the rebranding was affirm that so there wasn't any confusion as we were going out into the community.”
The new name, Grow, better highlights these lending capabilities and expanded mission.
Milinda Ysasi“CDFIs were really created because we knew that the disbursement of dollars was not happening in equitable ways. This was something that the federal government determined over 30 years ago. While we didn't start off as a lender, we know how important that is for businesses,” Ysasi says. “Last year the average loan size was about $8,500. And most banks just don't typically do those types of loans.”
While making loans to entrepreneurs and small businesses is now Grow’s main thrust, the organization, still housed at the Grand Rapids YWCA, still offers an educational component. Training now takes place virtually. On-demand technical assistance programming and webinars help small business owners build a strong foundation of business basics. A new class, Lending 101, will help entrepreneurs and small businesses decide if taking on a loan is the best strategy for success — or not.
“We serve business owners that are looking for either knowledge and or capital for their business,” Ysasi says. “ Our intent is that people never work with us just one time. We want to have a longer-term relationship with them.”
Grow lent $937,184 to 69 businesses over the last two years. Seventy-three percent of those loans supported women-owned businesses, 69% helped low-to-moderate income business owners and 27% supported women-of-color-owned businesses. These businesses have created and retained 193 jobs.
“Money is a significant need for businesses, and especially for woman-, Black-, brown- and indigenous-owned businesses,” Ysasi concludes. “If you're a business owner in one of those counties, if you feel like you need some capital for your business and you're not sure where to go, if you are somebody who is interested in the entrepreneur ecosystem and want to help other business owners with your knowledge, then you should reach out to Grow.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Grow