Sunday, May 28, 2023

DreamSpring Bankrolls Burque's Business Dreams

Local Community Development Financial Institution Expands to 27 States


The American economy is a slippery thing to get a handle on even in the best of times. In today's post-pandemic recovery environment, its almost as if someone hit a "restart" button and our businesses (even a lot of the longtime ones) are once again learning to crawl. One Albuquerque organization that hasn't just weathered the storm but is helping others do the same is the Community Development Financial Institution known as DreamSpring.

DreamSpring is an award-winning nonprofit organization that increases access to credit, makes loans and "provides a community of support to help entrepreneurs realize their dreams." The Albuquerque-based CDFI (previously known as Accion New Mexico) was started back in the early '90s by founder and CEO Anne Haines. From its base of operations in the Sawmill District, it now serves clients in 27 states, with more than 95 percent of loans reaching entrepreneurs from under-served populations. In New Mexico alone, DreamSpring has issued more than 7,370 loans totaling $131.23 million, creating or preserving more than 13,000 local jobs, since 1994. Nationwide, the numbers speak for themselves: 42,460+ loans, 3,500 communities served, 72,500 jobs created or saved, $470 million lent. The loans tend to be small—some as tiny as $200—and are aimed primarily at assisting women, minorities and economically disadvantaged clients start or build their businesses.

"Unfortunately in the United States there's a large swath of small businesses that have very limited opportunities to access capital or conventional, broad-based economic opportunity," says Haines. "So, we do focus specifically on under-served entrepreneurs and communities that have been historically under-served. The reality is the vast majority of people starting small businesses or growing a micro-business experience challenges getting capital. And DreamSpring exists at the intersection of compassion and capitalism."

Haines explains that DreamSpring is part of the growing financial trend of communities steering away from dispassionate, often-faceless national banks and moving toward less traditional, more localized Community Development Financial Institutions. "As part of our approach to delivering on our mission, we provide the capital, we provide resources to help people build their credit history, learn how to manage debt, open up marketing opportunities, find mentors in the community, be a bridge to many other community services to support each individual journey."

Haines believes—and has believed since she founded the organization—that "entrepreneurship is so fundamental to community development." For DreamSpring, success is not measured purely by profit and loss statements. Haines points out that, for one small business owner, "success" might come in the form of a contract to distribute a locally made product in stores nationwide. For another, success might be simply the freedom to work from home while raising children. "As the businesses we work with grow and develop, not only are they income generators for the individuals who started them, but they're community assets—they create jobs, they create products and services, and they create a real sense of hope and vitality."

DreamSpring's Senior Communication Specialist Laura Marrich, Founder/CEO Anne Haines and Chief Impact Officer Marissa Barrera

Despite its goal to serve all 50 states by the end of next year, DreamSpring remains firmly rooted in Albuquerque. "We've had requests and sometimes pressure to move the headquarters," says Haines. "And we don't wanna do it!" In fact, DreamSpring doesn't even maintain offices in the other states in which it does business.

"It's a really interesting story as we sit here now in this phase of the pandemic, with remote work being so much more normal," says Marissa Barrera, DreamSpring's chief impact officer. "In 2008 DreamSpring began to serve entrepreneurs in Arizona and Colorado in the Great Recession to provide services that were very much needed in those states," she explains. "And we did not open brick-and-mortar locations. We wanted to maximize the resources that we had available to put in the hands of small business owners. So, we started with a remote employee model and kind of a hub-and-spoke model, with Albuquerque being headquarters. A lot of our back-office functions happening in Albuquerque, like reconciling payments on loan accounts, things like that. With on-the-ground loan officers who worked in the community instead of in an office. And so the majority of our loan officer time was—and now at this phase of COVID it's becoming again is—in person with entrepreneurs. Whether that is in a home-based business or a storefront, it's visiting with partner organizations in the community. And that remains our model. It really is one that we can see maximizes the resources that we can dedicate to the small business owners that we're working with."

That's just one of the factors that got DreamSpring named one of the most innovative companies in the world for 2022 by trendy business magazine Fast Company. Haines believes that their nationwide reach is something that attracted Fast Company. "One of the things that DreamSpring is unique in pursuing right now is being a nationally serving Community Development Financial Institution. So, really taking that access to capital and opening the door across the country for entrepreneurs. Many of our fellow CDFIs are focused on one metro area or one multi-county region within a state. And with DreamSpring, we exist to provide an opportunity for all entrepreneurs to realize their dreams."

During the pandemic DreamSpring became a Paycheck Protection Program lender. "The numbers of small businesses we were able to reach through PPP loans placed us as one of the top organizations of our kind in the country, being able to connect small businesses that otherwise would have had to close or permanently lay off employees," says Barrera. In 2019 DreamSpring put "about 1,550 loans on the books." In 2021, through the Paycheck Protection Program, the organization did 24,000. "Those are significant numbers," concedes Barrera. "But what's more significant is those 24,000 business loans were associated with close to 100,000 households, either directly or indirectly through their employees, the families, etc."

Among the local success stories DreamSpring has contributed to include Yashoda Naidoo, owner of Annapurna's World Vegetarian Café, who recently opened the Breath of Prana restaurant stall at the Sawmill Market. Having built her business with DreamSpring over the years, Naidoo now sits on its board of directors. Other local businesses that have gotten help from DreamSpring include Frank's Chicken & Waffles and Bosque Brewing.

Barrera points out that the owners of Bosque Brewing "came to us for their startup loan. This was before the pandemic. They hadn't had any success at local banks finding a loan. And most startup businesses won't. Most banks don't lend to startups because of the risks and the necessary policies they have to protect their shareholders." Now Bosque Brewing has locations in Albuquerque, Bernalillo and Las Cruces. They employ about 100 New Mexicans. And their products are on the shelves of Costco. All of which, Barrera says, gets you thinking about the "different ways in which a business creates ripples of impact." The chief impact officer also holds up Bosque Brewing as the kind of community partner that DreamSpring looks for. "The founders also were so committed to the community. It was important to them that they do what they did in New Mexico. That they employ neighbors. They just really had a vision of both business and community. And I think that says so much about the businesses that we work with, because there often is a real impetus to provide something for the community, to employ neighbors, to make the pie bigger for people in the state."


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