What is the name of your organization?
ACT! Albany Community Together, Inc.
Is your organization registered as 501(c)(3) status with the IRS?
In what city, town, or region and state is your organization headquartered?Albany, Georgia, USA
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address? [Select up to 2]
What is the name of your solution?
The EPIC Project (EmPower SEDI businesses through individualized technical assistance and business development services to Inspire lasting, impactful Change)
What is your solution?
Albany Community Together (ACT) is a US-Treasury certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) working with and lending to predominantly African American-owned businesses in a 38-county region of SW Georgia. The EPIC project will increase and enhance all of ACT’s capacity building programs including training, workshops and technical assistance. It will include a new and innovative 6-month course that features a business assessment to identify issues and opportunities; followed by subject matter experts who will deliver customized technical assistance with marketing, accounting, operations and more.
A Special emphasis of the EPIC program will be to increase services to two subsets of the business communities: rural businesses and food-based businesses. Dedicated resources will be utilized to provide services specific to rural business needs and create networking opportunities and access to capital. Through its partnership in a regional Food and Innovation Hub currently under development, ACT will provide an onsite business incubator and expert level coaches for industry specific businesses in food growing, production, and retail options. All food-based businesses in the region will have access to specialized training technical assistance to increase access in food deserts and to strengthen the food supply chain.
EPIC will be delivered to both early stage and emerging businesses, and includes access to capital through ACT and/or its capital partners including other CDFIs, ACT’s participation in the Georgia SSBCI program for CDFIs, and Banks. It also includes extensive connections to networks, resources and support systems. ACT will use some existing staff and contract with subject matter experts to deliver the program.
Film your elevator pitch.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
Programs and services are delivered at both the individual and group levels, and increasingly ACT has added online delivery to its in-person offerings in order to create additional opportunities for participation. ACT's will present instruction to it's customers via Zoom and record to be used as webinars. Clients will have the ability to review webinars at their convenience as refreshers to grow and sustain their small businesses. In addition to the webinars, ACT has created an online revenue-based product to address the collateral shortages that many BIPOC businesses have that make it difficult to receive funding. In addition to the collateral shortages, many BIPOC businesses lack the financial data needed for lenders to make informed decisions. ACT's working capital flex loan will use data supplied from the PLAID platform to analyze a business bank statements to develop a cash flow analysis. This process provides realtime data that is based on the business operations to make informed lending decisions. The business is able to access up to $250,000 to be repaid by revenue sharing. The data supplied supports the loan amount, which eliminates the need for credit reporting and detail financials upfront. The Working Capital Flex Program creates data that can be used to make a decision and data that can be trusted based on at least two years of operating history.
The businesses will receive customized Technical Assistance to increase the repayment ability of the business. TA will be based on the analysis of the bank data obtained through the platform. The past two years were eye-opening for ACT staff as too many of the African American-owned businesses that it serves lacked critical knowledge and resources – financial, business acumen, networks and partners – to withstand the pandemic disruption. While ACT quickly mobilized to provide capital at the beginning of the pandemic, staff realized that much more than capital is needed to prevent the same situation from happening in the future. As a result, they designed a program to enhance a business’s financial strength through intense and targeted capacity building services that are provided over a longer term. The overarching goals of the EPIC Program are to:
● Create long-term resilience and the capacity to weather future economic downturns and other emergencies for Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC)-owned businesses.
● Prepare BIPOC-owned businesses for a stronger financial future with increased revenue and the ability to leverage credit and equity.
● Preserve the BIPOC business community, particularly legacy businesses that have been operating more than 15 years.
● Sustain local jobs and businesses that provide much needed goods and services.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Who does your solution serve, including demographics, and how does the solution impact their lives?
ACT is an African American-led CDFI providing small business loans to predominantly African-American owned businesses in a 38-county region of southwestern Georgia (GA). Historically, ACT’s service area is one of the most significantly impoverished areas of the country, with 21 of the counties designated as Persistent Poverty Counties. ACT’s headquarters are located in Albany, population 73,478, which has a majority African American population at 74.35%. The total poverty rate for Albany is 30.84%, compared to the state (15.09%), and national (13.02%) poverty rates. Albany is GA’s poorest city; and in a 2019 report in MoneyWise, Albany ranked 3rd in the nation in terms of America’s poorest cities. In fact, the Albany metro area’s share of extreme poverty – neighborhoods where at least 40 percent of residents live below the poverty level – is the highest in the state (24/7 Wall St). This level of poverty has created a lack of financial well-being, and limited opportunities for economic mobility, particularly for African Americans. Over half of the census tracts in Albany have African American poverty rates over 40% and 1 census tract that is predominately African American (82%), has a poverty rate of 68.51%. In fact since 2000, African American poverty in Albany has averaged 37.42% compared to Caucasian poverty averaging 12.63%. (Census) When comparing population demographics with poverty rates, Albany has deep, concentrated and historical long-term poverty in its African American population. In 2019, 98.21% of businesses that received financial products and development services from ACT were African-American owned and 100% of borrowers were very low to moderate income.
Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.
The primarily African American-owned small businesses served by ACT already faced financial challenges due to decades of grievous racial inequity that are manifest in every indicator of well-being: high poverty, lack of healthcare, inadequate housing and the inability to access capital. According to Goldman Sachs, Black-owned businesses were the hardest hit by the pandemic. Programs meant to help small businesses fell short nationally .
Over 44% of the target area does not have banking relationships or financial savvy enough to take advantage of full financial services, including small business loans (Prosperity Now). Black-own businesses rely on transaction-based services and predatory lending as a primary source of funding. Credit is a critical and necessary tool operate a business. According to Forbes, minority business owners are less likely to have traditional collateral, less likely to own homes, and more likely to have a low net worth, which makes banks even less likely to make loans that build credit.
The lack of a banking relationship has had a particularly detrimental impact on black owned small businesse. Federal Reserve data showing that African American business owners are denied loans at twice the rate of white business owners. The bottom line is that African American businesses, lack the tools and financial health to build resilience and recover and grow. According to a recent report by the University of GA, the Albany area is expected to recover much slower than the rest of the state, with many businesses expected to take years to recover.
What is your theory of change?
Our theory of change is that through access to capital that is affordable, accessible, and the right amount to make an impact, the business would have a better chance of stabilizing to grow and scale. Without the necessary resources to operate and scale, the business continues without increasing internally generated cash flow. The Working Capital Flex Loan provides an opportunity for minority or BIPOC business to access capital that meets them where they are to provide them with capital needed without having to deal with credit and collateral. Capital provided with access to customized coaching produces a strong healthy business that can create jobs and increase sales and net profits to create livable wage jobs.
What is your solution’s stage of development?Pilot: a product, service, or business model that is in the process of being built and tested with a small number of beneficiaries or working to gain traction.
What is your organization’s stage of development?Growth: A registered 501(c)(3) organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth and has a proven track record with an annual operating budget
How many small businesses does your solution currently serve?
ACT served 502 businesses in 2022. ACT projects to serve 3,000 businesses over the 5-year period. In 2022, ACT has 80 active, portfolio outstanding of $5,473,061.46 and assisted in creating 937 jobs. ACT projects to service 500 businesses annual with access to capital and business development services combined for a total of 2,500 businesses over a 5-year period.
How do you define the community you serve, and who are its stakeholders?
Historically ACT’s 38-county service area in SW Georgia is one of the most significantly impoverished areas of the country, with 19 of its counties designated as Persistent Poverty Counties. Key decision makers are the Board of Directors, Staff, and stakeholders. The organizational strategies are influenced by our target market. ACT! actively engages its target market to develop products and services. Our Working Capital Flex product is a result of listening to the needs of our customers and understanding why we were not meeting them where they were with our current products.
ACT defines its stakeholders as its board members, employees, customers, community, and partners. Our stakeholders are those who support, receive, and have an impact from our services and outcomes of our activities.
How do you build trust within the community your organization serves and among small business owners?
ACT has strong and mutually beneficial relationships that benefit its clients, including: the City of Albany Department of Community and Economic Development, the Georgia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and multiple SBDCs throughout its region, the Economic Development Commission of Albany, multiple city and county chambers of commerce, and the The City of Albany Downtown Development Authority. ACT is a member of the Regional Development Commission, funded by the state of Georgia. In 2022, ACT created the Albany Small Business Asset Map, which includes 12 resources offering a variety of services for entrepreneurs and business owners. ACT! Is an approved lender with the State of Georgia SSBCI (State Small Business Credit Initiative) Program for CDFI.
What are your impact goals for the current year and the next five years and how will you achieve them?
Our impact goals for the five year period is to provide 2,500 business owners with access to business development services to strengthen and grow their business by providing customized business development services to minority and black-owned businesses. Through our EPIC ((EmPower SEDI businesses through individualized technical assistance and business development services to Inspire lasting, impactful Change) we will serve those 2,500 businesses.
Year 1 - 500 providing access to business development services
Year 1 - Customized services 260 businesses
Year 2 - 500 through workshops and business development services
Year 2 - Customized services 350 businesses
Year 3 - 500 through workshops and business development services
Year 3 - Customized services 375 businesses
Year 4 - 500 through workshops and business development services
Year 4 - Customized services 400 businesses
Year 5 - 500 through workshops and business development services
Year 5 - Customized services 450 businesses
Anticipated # of rural entrepreneurs (as a subset of total) 100 175 200 225
Anticipated # of food-based businesses (as a subset of total) 25 135 150 200
Anticipated $ amount of capital raise and deployed to socially economic disadvantage businesses in serivces market and loan capital over a 5 year period in Millions ($4, $6, $8, $10, and $12)
Improve business operations and stability to SEDI businesses over a 5 year period (20,25,35,50 and 55).
Why are you applying to Truist Foundation Inspire Awards?
Historically, CDFIs led by people of color have received less financial support to scale and grow at the levels of those organizations led by their white counterparts. Our challenges are the same as our borrowers, a lack of access to affordable and patient capital to scale operations, lack of support to allow the organization opportunities to introduce place-based products. ACT has formed strong partnerships with banks that provide funding as well as actively bringing loan deals to ACT that cannot be financed by the bank or by the bank alone, but we have yet to develop a strong partnership with foundations that are willing to cover operations with unrestricted funding that allows us to scale and operate while growing our portfolio.
As a MIT Solve challenge winner, we would benefit from the reputation of Truist, building our relationship along side a trusted partner in the financial industry. If Truist is willing to provide grant funding to allow us to scale operations while growing our portfolio and business model. With the right support from Truist, ACT could overcome the barrier of unrestricted access to capital from major donors and improve our creditability and reputation in our community. We would be able to successfully meet our strategic objectives, provide creative and place-based products to a market in need.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
A partnership with MIT Solve and Truist would mean that we would overcome our reputation barrier, access to capacity (willing and supportive partner who is willing to invest at the level needed to scale operations), and strategic goals of becoming the go to CDFI in the region serving the social economically disadvantage businesses. A partnership means that we will be able to continue serving our communities that have high rates of unbanked and underbanked individuals. Being unbanked and underbanked in Albany means that over 44% of the population do not have sufficient relationships at banks or even the financial and banking savvy to take advantage of full financial services including small business loans. (Prosperity Now) This is a critical factor because according to Forbes, minority business owners are less likely to offer traditional collateral, less likely to own homes, and have a low net worth, which makes banks less likely to make loans. Taking advantage of banking services allows the business owner to begin building a financial footprint and creates the opportunity for upward mobility. A partnership with MIT Solve/Truist means an introduction to the banking industry built on a relationship of trust through ACT!.
Ms. Thelma Adams Johnson President CEO, ACT! (Albany Community Together!), Inc.