Small businesses and underbanked consumers have multiple hurdles to achieve financial prosperity: equal access to loans, lines of credit, and education and mentoring support.
Access to capital is vital, though alone it is often not enough for small businesses and financially challenged consumers to achieve success. Credit counseling, help with budgeting and other financial-education services are the foundation of growing a business and achieving wealth.
Arvest Bank is stepping up to meet those needs with a wholly owned non-bank subsidiary, the Arvest Opportunity Fund, to provide lending, counseling and financial education to borrowers who fall below standard bank-lending policies.
"We see a lot of customers without access to capital," said Hillis Schild, executive director of the program who has more than 30 years of banking industry experience. "And we know we had a whole section of customers that, for some reason, just didn't meet our loan policy."
Arvest created the Opportunity Fund "to take those customers and meet their lending needs for loan products and then also surround them with technical advice so hopefully at some point they graduate back to Arvest," Schild says.
The program, which provides loans and lines of credit, has been in place for less than a month and already has handed out $1.6 million, with about 45% of that in Arkansas. The Opportunity Fund's six-member team operates across the Arvest footprint in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma as well.
Construction-related businesses -- plumbers, electricians, garage-door repair -- started by sole proprietors have been the primary participants so far, according to Schild.
Nevertheless, borrowers also have included retailers and food-service-related entities like food trucks, and the bank has even seen an influx of trash-collection businesses in rural areas.
Loans are capped at $100,000 and the typical loan in the early days of the fund have averaged between $17,000 and $24,000.
The Opportunity Fund was established to help businesses and credit-challenged consumers overcome financial hurdles and to provide trusted advisers who offer financial education and counseling to enhance opportunities for long-term success.
Arvest is contracting with Money Management International, a nonprofit organization based in Sugar Land, Texas, to provide credit-counseling and education services. Program participants agree to take part in a yearlong financial-education program. Counseling is flexible and can be scheduled to meet the needs of borrowers and services are offered in multiple languages.
"We are committed to bringing opportunity through access to lending and financial education to all groups in the markets we serve," Arvest Bank President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Sabin said in a statement announcing the program. "That includes the underbanked. In addition to being the right way to do business, we believe the efforts of the Arvest Opportunity Fund are crucial to the economic health, stability and security of the communities we serve."
Arvest is providing a seamless opportunity for program participants. When a consumer or business applies for a loan or line of credit and applicant's credit profile does not meet the bank's standard loan-policy requirements, the application is automatically referred to the Arvest Opportunity Fund for consideration.
HEALTH CARE BOOTCAMP
The Conductor, a Conway entrepreneurial support organization, is collaborating with area health care organizations to host a week-long boot camp to help undergraduate and graduate students develop their business ideas.
The Healthcare Innovation Sprint is scheduled for May 14-18 and will guide students through an immersive training program in which they learn about healthcare innovation, how to identify potential problems, talk to key stakeholders and customers to gather information, and to develop solutions.
The program strives to create entrepreneurial and interactive learning opportunities for students and ushers them through the entrepreneurial processes of starting a venture with their peers.
"The Healthcare Innovation Sprint is one of our flagship programs," said Jeff Standridge, managing director of the Conductor. "We've seen participants go on to start companies, win state and national business plan competitions, and redirect their careers into healthcare, healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship."
Applications are now being accepted for the program, which provides free lodging, food and programming. The program is open to Arkansas students who have completed their sophomore year at a state college or university.
Partners in the program include BioVentures, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence.
More information and registration are available at arconductor.org/sprint.
ENTREPRENEUR EVENT RESCHEDULED
The Little Rock Venture Center has moved its Entrepreneurial Resources in Arkansas lunch and learn to Thursday. Last week's severe weather forced the change.
The 90-minute discussion, scheduled from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., includes six panelists with expertise in small business support and growth, lending, investment services and minority-business development.
The free event will offer advice for start-ups, sole proprietors and businesses with a small group of employees. Lunch will be provided for attendees and the event also will be available virtually.
More information is available at venturecenter.co
UCA RECEIVES SUPPORT
The University of Central Arkansas has received a $456,637 grant to create an economic development training program for community leaders in northwest Arkansas.
The Community Development Pipeline program also will provide technical assistance to community leaders in Washington and Benton counties.
The initiative, supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, aims to "positively impact and uplift the economies and quality of life of communities," UCA said in a statement announcing the program last week.
The three-year grant was awarded to the school's Center for Community and Economic Development, which provides training and other tools to promote business growth in Arkansas communities.
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