'Microloan' helps East Bay family-owned business bounce back during pandemic

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ByDavid Louie KGO logo
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
'Microloan' helps East Bay business survive pandemic
By some estimates, about 6,000 businesses have closed in the Bay Area since the pandemic began in March about half permanently.

HAYWARD, Calif. (KGO) -- By some estimates, about 6,000 businesses have closed in the Bay Area since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March about half permanently.

Minority and women-owned businesses are among them. However, they're getting help with something called "microloans" from nonprofit lenders. They're small loans that can help them to survive.

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This was supposed to be the best year yet for Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas. The family-owned business was selling 40,000 tamales per month with contracts to sell to Facebook, Google, Twitter and Chase Center. Then the pandemic hit.

"We lost all our business all at once. And I could say like 95% of our business is gone," said founder Alicia Villanueva.

Villanueva, her husband Pedro and their son started by selling tamales door to door, and they were prepared to start over to keep their 25 employees working.

Small businesses like this often don't have a relationship with regular banks. However, the nonprofit microlender Opportunity Fund has stepped in.

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"This is a reflection of the long-standing biases, our financial system that has left minority-owned businesses undercapitalized with less resources and sitting in the back of the line," said Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia. "We need to change that."

Opportunity Fund has made almost 1,000 microloans since March. The average loan, $15,000. It gave Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas time and money to diversify its product line and to pursue new customers. Mrs. Villanueva did not have to lay off anyone.

"I really need to work hard for them," she said. The family had struggled to start their business. Mrs. Villanueva had worked as a housecleaner while her husband was a painter.

Opportunity Fund's focus is to help minority and women-owned small businesses. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation has raised $3.5 million for microloans. Comcast has contributed $350,000.

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What's the impact? A 94% survival rate and a 95% repayment rate according to Opportunity Fund. Each microloan results in three jobs created or saved. For every $1 loaned, there is $2 in economic activity generated.

Thanks to its microloans, Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas is bouncing back, selling its products to Lunardi's, Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl and online at Williams Sonoma.

For more information on Opportunity Fund and how to apply for a loan, click here.

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