Talking business with Mountain Bizworks, our July Small Business of the Month

June 29, 2020

In 1989, Mountain BizWorks was born from a collective community group inspired by Grameen Bank’s model of microfinance, with the idea that if all who needed small business capital had access that Asheville would be brimming with equitable economic activity. After the organization’s conception, Mountain BizWorks became a U.S. Treasury certified non-profit community development financial institution (CDFI). Now, Mountain Bizworks has been in the business of business loans for over 30 years. We sat down with them to learn more about their approach to clients, lending, small business, and more.

How does Mountain Bizworks help our local community?

Since the beginning of Mountain BizWorks’ history, all loan decisions and relationships have been managed locally. Additionally, we work to ensure our clients’ success by offering highly customized, peer-to-peer business coaching by an extensive network of local, successful business owners. This innovative blend of lending and learning has helped tens of thousands of entrepreneurs across Western North Carolina overcome obstacles, grow strategically, and create jobs.

Tell us a little known fact or fun piece of trivia about Mountain Bizworks!

In the past three years, Mountain BizWorks has been able to expand our lending to businesses owned by BIPOC by 250%. Here’s a bonus fun fact (because why not): while only 16% of commercial small business loans are made to women borrowers, and 36% of MBA program enrollments are women, 55% of Mountain BizWorks borrowers are women, and 66% of participants in our business classes are women.

What are you most proud of about the company?

We are most proud of the long term sustained impact that providing access to capital has had for entrepreneurs in our region who are most often overlooked. Throughout our history, we have been able to provide nearly $47m in small business loans to entrepreneurs that were excluded from traditional financing systems. This has resulted in more than 20,000 jobs for members of our community.

What is the best advice you’ve heard for operating a small business?

Always keep your mission in mind and at the center of all your strategic decision making. As a non-profit it is easy to let your work slip from your core purpose. For over 30 years we have been focused on ensuring those who are pushed to the margins of our society have access to the financing and training needed so that they can realize their dream of business ownership. By keeping this mission in mind, we have been able to help steward long term sustained progress in business ownership and employment in our region. We believe that with committed lasting efforts our community will be able to have access to the tools and resources needed to succeed, which will result in a diverse and vibrant local economy where we all prosper.

Any tips for other small businesses that you’ve learned over the years?

Collaboration is key, as a small business and non-profit community, we are stronger together. We hold our classes in a cohort-based model, for this specific reason. We recognize that our community holds an incredible amount of wisdom, and by working together and increasing the interconnectivity of our economy we all prosper.

What’s next on the horizon for Mountain Bizworks?

In this next horizon, we look forward to championing and supporting our local entrepreneurs,  who find opportunities within problems. As our community works to safely and successfully re-open, we know that there will be a significant need for support of business education and access to financing. History shows that in times of a recession community development financial institutions lean in, while other financial resources may shy away. We look forward to participating in and amplifying the creative solutions that emerge that work towards creating a more diverse and vibrant local economy.

Our tagline is “Together, We are More.” What does that mean to Mountain Bizworks?

This notion is core to our existence and all of our work. Mountain BizWorks’ mission is to build a vibrant and inclusive entrepreneurial community in Western North Carolina by helping small businesses start, grow, and thrive. When small businesses succeed, we all prosper.

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