In New York state, there are 69 certified CDFIs that serve underrepresented populations. According to Sherri Falck, assistant vice president of Excelsior Growth Fund, one of the CDFIs that specifically serve the Buffalo area, more resources means better access.
“Five or six years ago, I don’t think there were any certified CDFIs in Buffalo. Now there are four, one on the equity side and three on the lending side,” Falck said. “I’m happy to say all four of us collaborate. Collaboration continues to be a theme among our ecosystem here in Western New York, which is great.”
Excelsior Growth Fund, located inside the Beverly Gray Business Exchange Center on E. Utica Street, received a boost of its own this past April when the KeyBank Business Boost & Build Program, powered by JumpStart, awarded them and another local CDFI (WEDI) with a combined $100,000 grant to serve entrepreneurs in the Buffalo market.
The collaborative partnership between EGF and the KeyBank Business Boost & Build Program make obtaining financing easier for entrepreneurs like Chris Keller of Rightly Marketing, who sought the services of EGF while his business was experiencing a growth spurt. An immediate need for capital made him a right fit for a CDFI as opposed to a traditional bank. Keller was able to obtain capital quickly to keep up with the demands of his business.
“The timing of being able to get the funding was really, really paramount for me, because I had opportunities in the pipeline that would’ve went away had I not been able to pursue them right away,” Keller said.
Prior to starting his own venture, Keller was an entrepreneur-in-residence, helping to grow startups at a company in Buffalo. With a passion for growth marketing, Keller began building up his own business, and when he finally parted ways with his former employer, he was able to really zero in on its development.
“I knew how to do it and I just didn’t have the time or resources to execute it with all of the clients that I had,” Keller said. “So I had to pipeline a business that I needed more resources to be able to go after and tackle. And that’s where the funding came in. It allowed me to spend more time growing my business than just servicing my clients.”
In a city primed for an influx of marketing startups and a growing tech sector, Keller learned to differentiate himself against the competition.
“There are a lot of really great agencies here. They’re very brand-focused agencies… But a lot of them don’t really focus on growing businesses, so that's where I sort of niched myself,” Keller said.
In lieu of going to a traditional bank for funding, Keller found an organization that shared the same values as his business. Collaboration, compatibility, and timing all played crucial roles in his nontraditional path to financing.
“There are a lot of resource partners out there,” Falck said. “Folks like the Small Business Development Center and the SBA office offer valuable services, but you also have new resources popping up, such as the Beverly Gray Center and the services that they offer for technical assistance.”
And Falck doesn’t just mean in terms of lending. In addition to a loan program, EGF offers business advisory services such as webinars and workshops, which are available to anyone running a small business. For loan clients, EGF offers one-on-one consulting in areas like finance, strategic growth, and bookkeeping.
Finding the right support to back your vision is an essential step in providing security and longevity to a business. Keller was quick to move in his financial process, but he still recommends that entrepreneurs do their due diligence.
“I look at money a little bit differently," Keller said. "I think how you make your money matters. I wasn’t about to take money from just anybody. I could’ve taken outside investment, but it just wasn’t really a fit for me.”