Written by: Sherri Welch
Detroit-based nonprofit Michigan Women Forward will offer $10 million in community impact notes to support Michigan's women entrepreneurs.
Over the past five years, MWF (formerly known as Michigan Women's Foundation) has used philanthropic contributions and money from the state loan fund (that had to be paid back in just three years) to make microloans to 180 women entrepreneurs through loan programs and pitch competitions.
About 90 percent of those investments have been in Southeast Michigan, the rest scattered around the state. The businesses range from drinking vinegars and a coffee shop, a hydroponic farm and a mushroom factory to an architecture firm and a phlebotomy training school.
All but four of those companies are still operating, Cassin said, noting they collectively produced $18.5 million in revenue last year.
With the additional "patient" capital from the new offering, MWF could invest in up to 1,000 additional women entrepreneurs, giving them longer terms to pay the investment back, along with technical assistance and other support to help them succeed, Cassin said.
"If these businesses perform at the same rate the first 180 have performed," the notes could create $100 million in new revenue when it is fully deployed in 10 years, she said.
"It starts to be significant. You start to talk about real impact."
The $10 million Michigan Women Forward Community Impact Note offering is modeled after a similar program the Maryland-based Calvert Impact Capital Inc. offers to fund microloans, or make loans for buildings such as schools or affordable housing, Cassin said.
MWF is seeking:
"Before you're ready for angel investing or venture funding, women, especially, have a very hard time finding small amounts of equity funding," Cassin said.
Issuing notes is contingent upon MWF garnering commitments totaling at least $1 million within 12 months. Individual investors must make a minimum investment of $50,000, and institutional investors must commit at least $500,000.
MWF promises returns of 1 percent for five-year notes, 2 percent for seven-year notes and 3 percent for 10-year notes.
With assistance from Auburn Hills-based Gingras Global Group Inc., it will also provide investors with quarterly impact statements to document the tangible impact they are making in women's lives, Cassin said.
All summer, MWF has been talking with local, private and family foundations and banks "that might want to turn a philanthropic donation into an investment" that could be redeployed again and again to help women entrepreneurs, Cassin said. "We would not have gotten this far if we hadn't received positive reinforcement from them," she said.
MWF has also been talking with foundations in other parts of the state, such as Grand Rapids, that have an interest in investing in the notes to support women entrepreneurs in their regions, Cassin said.
Beyond the support the new offering could bring to women entrepreneurs, microlending is a sustainable business for MWF, Cassin said.
"The more we lend out and (entrepreneurs) pay back ... that gives us this opportunity to really create a larger and larger pool of money we can access" for more microloans, she said. "That's better for getting more women the capital they need and for getting us more flexible, earned income to start paying for the organization instead of having to go out and fundraise all the time."