We are thrilled to announce that this June, Opportunity Fund reached a milestone of $1 billion in cumulative investments in small businesses and low-income communities—investments that have boosted incomes, supported jobs, and driven economic mobility for thousands of entrepreneurs, their families, and communities. Through the last 26 years of micro and small business lending, New Markets Tax Credit investments, and our now-sunsetted affordable housing and microsavings initiatives, Opportunity Fund has backed the transformative visions of diverse, determined entrepreneurs and communities.
“This is an extraordinary milestone that I never envisioned when I began raising money from community banks in San Jose in 1993,” reflected Eric Weaver, Opportunity Fund’s Founder and Board Member. “More than anything, it underscores the power of perseverance: my own perseverance when it took years for us to make any significant change; the perseverance of the scores of dedicated Opportunity Fund team members who took us far beyond my early vision; and especially the perseverance of thousands of entrepreneurs and communities determined to make better lives for themselves. My deepest gratitude to the donors and investors who believed in our daring venture. We promised to leverage your dollars to make meaningful impact. Together with our clients, we have delivered. And we’re just getting started.”
Over $500 million invested in small business owners like Teri
Micro- and small business loans account for over half of Opportunity Fund’s $1 billion investment. Opportunity Fund proudly supports determined small business owners like Teri (pictured above), the founder, President, and Chief Engineer of SKS Engineering and Planning, Inc. Teri leads a team of four to ensure coastal construction projects are environmentally compliant.
Early in her career, Teri served as an environmental projects manager in the Florida Everglades. In the 135-year history of the Port Everglades project, Teri was its first woman engineer. She soon branched out from environmental engineering into ecological restoration, striking out on her own to “build swamps for a living.”
But five years after founding the firm, she lost her business partner to cancer. Then, in 2008, Teri herself was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The week after completing her chemotherapy treatments and a week prior to her daughter beginning kindergarten, Teri—a Bay Area native—moved her family from Florida to California.
Despite the fact that she had multiple business and personal accounts with her bank, Teri’s banker couldn’t offer her a loan. Instead, Teri’s banker referred her to Opportunity Fund for a working capital loan in 2017.
“Chemo and being self-employed is a bad combination,” she shared. “The company transition to be near family in California caused a severe downswing in my company finances. Impacts from this move were still affecting me and the firm nine years later. Opportunity Fund saved me, basically.”
This summer, as Opportunity Fund reached the $1 billion mark in lending, Teri used her most recent Opportunity Fund loan to purchase a small boat to navigate the job site.
Throughout unexpected health and associated financial challenges, Teri has stayed fiercely loyal to her employees, her community, and her vision for her small business. Opportunity Fund proudly invests in small business owners like Teri, who has lent her expertise to protect the environment.
Supporting communities through the New Markets Tax Credit program
In addition to small business loans, loans originated using the New Markets Tax Credit program also pushed Opportunity Fund past the $1 billion lending and investment mark. Opportunity Fund has invested $377 million through this federal government-backed initiative, financing 31 projects including community health centers, homeless services facilities, at-risk youth projects, and a Native American forest and salmon fishery restoration project.
This June, Opportunity Fund provided a $10 million New Markets Tax Credit investment for the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic (“YVFWC”). The YVFWC is the largest community health center in the Pacific Northwest, and the financing will support the construction of a new, 40,000 square foot clinic in Kennewick, Washington. Ultimately, the clinic will generate local jobs and meet the medical needs of the region’s low-income and/or uninsured residents.
The clinic will serve as a patient-centered “medical home,” providing a “one stop shop” for patients’ comprehensive medical needs. The architecture of the new clinic reflects this seismic shift towards patient-centered care: “The way we design our clinics has caught up with the needs of our community,” noted Jeff Breymeyer, Facilities Architect, who has worked at YVFWC for 17 years. The clinic’s architectural design strongly encourages cooperation amongst patient care teams in lieu of the more traditional separation between doctors, nurses, and staff.
“In Yakima, when I drive past our clinics, I feel good that we’ve built a nice-looking building, but what’s more amazing are the people who work here and the people we serve,” said Peter Toop, the special projects manager and former Chief Financial Officer at YVFWC. “I’ve been in this industry 37 years, and I’ve had frustrating days, but I’ve never had a bad day here.”
The balance of $123 million that led Opportunity Fund to the $1 billion milestone was in the form of loans to finance affordable housing (program discontinued in 2013) and matching funds for one of the country’s largest and most effective Individual Development Account programs (discontinued in 2018).
Celebrating this first $1B in impact while driving forward to deliver the next $1B
“We’re honored to invest in resilient entrepreneurs like Teri and community partners like the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic,” said Luz Urrutia, CEO of Accion Opportunity Fund and Opportunity Fund. “As we advance toward our next billion in lending, we want to share our deep gratitude to our investors, community partners, donors, borrowers, and team members who brought us to this milestone. You inspire us to keep building an inclusive financial system, so our small businesses and neighborhoods can thrive.”
Opportunity Fund, the nation’s leading nonprofit small business lender, believes small dollar loans help hard-working entrepreneurs make lasting change in their own lives and build stronger communities by growing businesses and creating jobs. Opportunity Fund’s community of donors and investors is creating an inclusive financial system that empowers women, immigrant, and minority small business owners. Our strategy combines microloans for small business owners and New Markets Tax Credit investments in high-impact community infrastructure projects. Since 1994, Opportunity Fund has deployed more than $1 billion and helped thousands of entrepreneurs invest in their families’ futures. The organization has committed to lending an additional $1.2 billion to small business owners across the country and investing $174 million in community real estate projects by 2023.
In March, 2020, Opportunity Fund and Accion, The US Network, joined forces to establish Accion Opportunity Fund, the first organization focused on a national microlending strategy to meet the credit needs of small businesses – developing new products, establishing new partnerships, promoting research and financial education, and leveraging digital technologies to support mission-driven lending.