Small businesses thrive with micro loans

May 29, 2009 7:04:51 PM PDT
In the worst economic climate in 50 years, an Oakland couple has turned a $6,000 micro loan into a thriving business.

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The White House is convinced that micro loans to small businesses need to be part of the fix for this recession.

In Oakland there is no better example than Bake Sale Betty's.

As fast as they can make them, bag them and box them, the signature chicken sandwiches fly out of Bake Sale Betty's.

The line goes out the door and down the block. And it all started from a $6,000 micro loan.

"That was the key point to starting the business," Alison Barakat said.

Bake Sale Betty, Barakat's alter ego, says banks would not loan her the money to start her business. She got it from the Oakland Business Development Corporation.

"That helped me buy equipment and the ingredients I needed to get out to the farmers market," Barakat said.

She started selling at the farmers market in Danville. She put on a blue hair wig in hopes of standing out from the crowd. That is where she met her husband.

"I said something like, 'Bake Sale Betty, will you go steady,'" Michael Camp said.

Believe it or not that worked. They started cooking together.

"And as the demand grew for our product, then we started to get serious and said, 'OK, it's time to get another loan, it's time to expand more,' you know we started to employ people," Barakat said.

Seven years later they have 85 employees and are making 800 to 1,200 chicken sandwiches every day for customers sitting on stools at ironing boards lined up down the side walk.

In October they will open their second store, just about the time the second baby is due.

"I guess you could say we just love to work hard," Barakat said.

It has been hard work, but what has made it possible are the first couple of micro loans that got everything rolling.

Friday, President Barack Obama created quite a stir in when he left the White House to pick up a bag of burgers. A much bigger stir will be the $100 million in new funding the White House is allocating to programs that make small business loans to low income workers like Bake Sale Betty.

"A little bit of money and a little bit of inspiration can go a long way," Camp said.

And this week, the Treasury Department announced $1.5 billion in tax credit awards to help jump start private investing. Of that, $35 million is going to the Opportunity Fund in San Jose, an organization that makes micro loans.

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