LiftFund President and CEO Janie Barrera at the nonprofit microlending company's rebrand launch. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
LiftFund President and CEO Janie Barrera at the nonprofit microlending company's rebrand launch. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Accion Texas revealed its new name and logo Wednesday morning. The nation’s largest nonprofit small business microlender is now LiftFund.

The mission to provide small loans to underserved individuals and businesses has expanded to 20 different offices operating in eight states – the new name reflects that LiftFund is no longer associated with just one state.

“The difference between then and now is that we are able to work with small business owners in whatever business cycle they are in,” said LiftFund President and CEO Janie Barrera (pictured above), pointing out that LiftFund loans range from $500 to $250,000.

“For the past 20 years we have lifted people with limited access to capital and provided an opportunity to fulfill their dreams. We have combined two words to foster a stronger sense of what we do everyday.”

LiftFund President and CEO Janie Barrera at the nonprofit microlending company's rebrand launch. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
LiftFund President and CEO Janie Barrera speaks at the nonprofit microlending company’s rebrand launch. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The word “fund” on the logo is literally lifted up and is accompanied by the tag line, “Dream it. Fund it.” LiftFund hired San Antonio-based Atkins Group for its new brand and local designer Josué Zapata for the logo design.

“(LiftFund) is more than a new name, it is a launch into a new role, separate from Accion International,” said former mayor and CityView Chairman Henry Cisneros. “This entity will have its own momentum, its own drive, right out of San Antonio. We have a good history of building national organizations out of here … we’re going to watch Janie do exactly the same thing with this entity nationally.”

He lauded her accomplishment of bringing LiftFund from a three-person operation to the 318-employee network it is today by bringing professionalism, honesty, and understanding to how microlending works on a ground level. To date, Barrera and her team have dispersed a total of $173,787,508 in loans.

“(Barrera has) the ability to wonderfully create that balance that is the beauty of our system,” Cisneros said. “On the one hand, we know we need the skills of business and professionalism. On the other, we need a big heart to reach deep into the community.”

The nonprofit took its name from Accion U.S. Network when it was founded in 1994. In the beginning, LiftFund typically issued loans in the $25,000 range. Now it issues $250,000 on a regular basis. It has also worked with the Small Business Administration 504 Program to issue up to $5.5 million in loans in Texas.

The credit score cutoff to secure a loan from a traditional, major bank is 680. LiftFund serves people with an average credit score of 580, Barrera said – people who are seen by major banks as very likely to default on their loan repayment.  However, LiftFund maintained a 97% payback rate in 2014 while serving more than 3,000 borrowers.

Former LiftFund client Kathleen Mayes, founder and owner of MaGi Foods, LLC., attended the branding unveil to demonstrate the job creation and independence that microlending can create.

Mayes was inspired by the simple, healthy ingredients that her children couldn’t get enough of that came out of an affordable Lousiana Purchase box of black beans and rice. In 2007 she bought the company – just before the economic crash in 2008.

“I had to make a decision. Either close shop or start making it myself – and that’s what we did. In 45 days, I built a small production facility and spent the next two years, seven days a week, making these little boxes,” she said. “I needed help.”

Frost Bank was unable to continue to lend to her, but through a connection her former banker made, she found LiftFund and was able to expand her business through the SBA program and build a secondary/backup production line. She has also expanded to a second brand and product, Kathleen’s instant oatmeal.

“I am proud to say that through (LiftFund) I am here today and growing, and I just found out that we got accepted into all Texas Costco (grocery stores),” she said. “If you believe in the projects that you have a lot of passion for, don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

The branding announcement ceremony took place at the Farmer’s Market in the Historic Market Square – where many of LiftFund’s original clients operate – and was sponsored by Chase bank, which also contributed $125,000 for the rebranding effort in 17 different cities. Chase gave LiftFund a $5-million grant in 2011.

“I spent four and a half years as an entrepreneur,” said Morris Camp, who has since spent 20 years in banking and is now regional president of JPMorgan Chase. “During that time I cut payroll checks, I missed payroll checks, I aged payables (laughter), I did all those things you have to do as a small business. I love how this organization’s mission is to bridge the gap between the business desire (the product or service) and a successful small business.”

*Featured/top image: LiftFund President and CEO Janie Barrera at the nonprofit microlending company’s rebrand launch. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org