How a Loan Fund Helped a St. Louis Entrepreneur Transform and Scale Her Business

FINANCE

Tiffany Wesley’s St. Louis-based business was born out of personal necessity. Wesley had been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome and wanted to incorporate organic and gluten-free products into her lifestyle, but quickly learned how difficult they were to find. Undeterred, she began creating her own all-natural skin and self-care products, making body butters and essential oils for herself, and later a honey and oat chamomile soap to treat her daughter’s eczema. The before and after photos she posted to social media lit a fire, and requests from friends and family started to pile in. Pure Vibes was launched in 2013 from Wesley’s basement.

The company followed a trajectory many small businesses know well: scrappy beginnings, patronage by friends and family, and then the need for more capital to continue growing. Wesley competed for funding through a business accelerator program and earned second place. This qualified her for a micro-loan from Justine PETERSEN, a community development financial institution (CDFI) that provides capital to businesses in underserved communities. This investment helped Wesley’s business flourish. But in 2020, she hit a wall.

“We outgrew our space, and our customer base changed from local pick-ups at my front door to include customers across the country,” Wesley said. “I wanted to increase production and move to an e-commerce model, but I simply didn’t have enough capital to propel my business forward.”

Charter Communications

The solution to Wesley’s challenge was a second, larger loan from Justine PETERSEN made possible by Charter Communications, a Fortune 100 broadband connectivity company and cable operator known to over 31 million customers as Spectrum. Through its Spectrum Community Investment Loan Fund, Charter has made a commitment of over $22 million to support small businesses in its 41-state footprint, including a $10 million partnership with the National Urban League and the National Action Network to support Black-owned businesses.

“Investing in CDFIs helps build a community’s financial infrastructure,” said Jeff Buller, vice president at Charter and head of the Loan Fund. “Our goal is to generate economic impact through small business investment and job creation in underserved communities. Through the Loan Fund, we directly invest in the communities where our employees and customers live and work.”

With the Loan Fund, in addition to investing $1 million with Justine PETERSEN, Charter also issued a grant to provide technical assistance and small business education to local business owners.

Charter selected Justine PETERSEN as an investment partner because of its track record of community impact in the St. Louis area—where Charter has over 5,300 employees and a large customer base. Charter is also committed to empowering and investing in communities to change lives in lasting ways through community impact programs focused on digital literacy, underrepresented college students, and community organizations that employees support.

According to a 2018 Small Business Administration report, Black business owners are more likely to be undercapitalized when launching their businesses and experience higher denial rates when attempting to seek financing relationships. And, if they are approved, Black business owners are twice as likely as white business owners to receive less than the amount requested.

“The ability to secure a large loan can truly transform a business,” said Galen Gondolfi, senior loan counselor for Justine PETERSEN. “Minority-owned businesses generally tend to be starved for capital—especially when it comes to larger loans. Charter’s Loan Fund investment is pivotal, making it possible for us to provide the larger loans needed for small businesses like Pure Vibes to scale up.”

Empowered by the Spectrum Community Investment Loan Fund’s investment, Wesley will increase Pure Vibes’ manufacturing and distribution capacity by purchasing extra equipment and moving to a larger facility. She will also be able to hire one new full-time employee and one part-time employee. Wesley’s next goal is to be in a strong place financially, and to give back by donating hygiene products to low-income residents and those experiencing homelessness in St. Louis.

Wesley’s advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs is, “Don’t be afraid to get out there. Oftentimes, Black business owners have a fear of failure when it comes to asking for funding—have the confidence to take your shot.”

 


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