A Brief History
By Way of Explanation
After more than 20 years of serving the community, our organization has changed its name to LiftFund to better represent our mission in all the communities we serve. When we incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1994 as Accion, we had Texas in our name. We now have grown to serve 13 states and have the opportunity to serve many others in the future. There will be less confusion for our customers as we describe our products with our new name LiftFund. We have only changed our name. Our mission, organization structure, tax ID status, products and services will all remain the same.
LiftFund was launched with the help of Accion International™ and San Antonio community and business leaders. Established in 1994 with headquarters in San Antonio, TX, LiftFund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization helping entrepreneurs strengthen their businesses, stabilize and increase their incomes, create employment, and contribute to the economic revitalization of communities in the 13 states in which we serve.
In the early 1990s, Accion International, an organization known for its efforts to help people through successful microlending in Latin America, wanted to see if its concept could also work in the United States.
Its leadership tested the idea successfully in New York and then took it to four heavily Hispanic cities – Albuquerque, Chicago, San Antonio and San Diego — working with community and financial leaders in each city.
In San Antonio, there was enthusiasm from the start. Alfonso Martinez-Fonts, then chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and San Antonio president of Texas Commerce Bank, initiated the process and collaborated with community leaders to bring this concept to life. Frost Bank, Wells Fargo, and Broadway Bank stepped up to the plate, offering $125,000 at zero percent interest to support such a loan program. A $50,000 grant for operations from Levi-Strauss quickly followed.
The next step was to find an executive who combined a sense of social responsibility with business acumen. Janie Barrera was the perfect fit. And she has served as President and CEO ever since.
The Early Years
LiftFund was incorporated in March as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization under the name Accion Texas, and after hiring two other staff members, Barrera and her staff made their first loan in June 1994.
Barrera and her team believed that the microlending and small business lending concept could change lives. By offering the capital that small business owners needed, the nonprofit organization would help boost economic self-sufficiency in communities throughout South Texas. With support from Accion International, they worked to secure additional grants from socially responsible foundations that were committed to the concept of “a hand up, rather than a handout.” The Meadows Foundation committed $500,000, and others soon followed.
LiftFund provided vital funding, including working capital, to small businesses that, for various reasons, could not secure loans or credit through banks. The team rose to the challenge, working as loan officers, collectors, marketers and fundraisers.
As the organization grew, the team also learned the value of technical assistance to help entrepreneurs manage their businesses and their funds – and how to find this support through partnering with community organizations. The team worked hard to build personal relationships with borrowers to ensure loan payback.
Over the years, LiftFund has helped small businesses – car lots, hair salons, restaurants, barbershops, builders, daycare centers, service companies and more – that represent nearly 90 percent of Texas employers. LiftFund loans helped them buy their equipment and supplies, and other essential services and materials, as well as build the credit scores they needed to become “bankable” as they grew.
For the banks that committed support, the young organization turned out to be an excellent investment. Banks could refer loans that were too small or where bad credit made them high-risk, and, at the same time, fulfill their Community Reinvestment Act requirements with their financial commitments.
LiftFund grew quickly, opening small offices around the state to meet the huge demand for loans, and continued to expand the San Antonio team. First serving the San Antonio region, the organization expanded quickly into other Texas markets, establishing offices in El Paso in 1996, in the Rio Grande Valley and Houston areas in 1998, Austin and the Dallas/Fort Worth in 1999, in Corpus Christi in 2004, and in Laredo in 2005.
In 2007, LiftFund received the first OFN Wachovia Next Award for its innovation on creating an underwriting platform called Microloan Management Services® (MMS®). MMS® is a web-based, comprehensive solution that increases efficiency for business loan origination.
Then in 2009, with 15 years of success with our model in Texas, we broadened our reach and established offices in Alexandria and New Orleans. After economic development leaders in Louisiana invited us to bring our nonprofit small business lending and support system to the state, we opened offices in Baton Rouge and Shreveport in 2010. We expanded into Arkansas in 2011. And in 2012, we established offices in Alabama and Tennessee, and also started offering loans to entrepreneurs in the Delta Regional Authority states of Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri.
In 2013, LiftFund began providing Promise loans throughout our footprint and designed an assessment tool allowing us to increase the number of entrepreneurs we serve. There was an 11.2% increase in lending activity over 2012, resulting in our biggest year ever in terms of production, with $20.2 million in loans disbursed to 1,305 small business owners. In 2013, LiftFund made history by selling $2.7 million of a loan portfolio to Woodforest National Bank, which improved LiftFund’s liquidity, enabling us to make more loans.
In 2015, we grew to serve 13 states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas – and have the opportunity to serve many others states in the future.
Entrepreneurs with great ideas have shown gratitude to the organization that helped them become profitable and improve their communities with new jobs, as well as new products and services. The success stories are human and touching – and there are literally thousands of them.
LiftFund has made more than 19,000 small business loans totaling more than $250 million. We now offer business loans between $500 and $1 million, as well as capital loans up to $5.5 million in Texas through the SBA 504 lending program, along with training, networking and other support services for hardworking entrepreneurs.
New Lending and Learning Center
In 2012, because of the tremendous growth and the need to hire more staff to administer the loans and to market our services, we embarked on a $7 million capital campaign to build a new headquarters on San Antonio’s West Side.
With major contributions from the Weinberg Foundation, Wells Fargo Bank, Kresge Foundation, the Greehey Family Foundation, Valero Energy Foundation, Farm Bureau Bank, and the City of San Antonio, LiftFund broke ground on the construction of its new headquarters in February 2014.
The new Lending and Learning Center became home to all San Antonio LiftFund staff members in April 2015, located at 2007 W. Martin. The new headquarters includes the Greehey Family Foundation/Nustar Community Lift Center, the Wells Fargo Business Launch Center, and the Farm Bureau Bank Edible Classroom – a garden site that will offer neighborhood children the opportunity to learn about agriculture, as well as entrepreneurship.
New Name. Same Mission.
After 20 years of proving that small business owners are a good investment, and growing successfully into markets outside of Texas, board members for Liftfund decided in 2014 to change the name of our organization to better represent our clients and communities throughout our 13-state footprint. At the beginning of 2015, Barrera announced our new name, LiftFund, emphasizing that we have only changed our name. The mission, organization structure, tax ID status, products and services all remain the same.
The new name and logo communicate elevation, success and include two words that create a strong presence of support for customers and partners. For over 20 years, we have “lifted” people with limited access to capital and provided an opportunity to fulfill their dreams. To combine Lift with Fund allows us to foster a stronger sense of what we do every day. It is our goal and our mission to continue to build the pathway to success for entrepreneurs for many years to come.