Mission-driven and community focused: PathStone Enterprise Center Buffalo

PathStone Enterprise Center, Inc. (PECI) is the small business lending and technical support arm of PathStone Corporation, a multi-state community development corporation. (PECI is also one of the sponsors of UpstartNY.) PathStone Corp. provides human, social, and development services for low-income individuals and communities.

PathStone established the PathStone Enterprise Center in Rochester first in 1997, and it became designated as a community development financial institution (CDFI) in 1998; it’s also designated as a community development entity (CDE) under the New Markets Tax Credit program.

UpstartNY spoke with Dionne Jacques and Adam Tidrow, respectively, deputy director and business development officer at the PathStone Enterprise Center Buffalo, to get their takes on how PathStone Enterprise Center works in the community.

UpstartNY: What are the PathStone Enterprise Center’s main services?

Dionne Jacques: We provide fixed-rate small business loans—between $5,000 and $250,000—with an average loan amount of $38,000 and an average approval time of 30-60 days. We also provide loans for home improvements, and, for first-time homebuyers, closing costs, and loans. And our loans are accompanied by technical assistance in many forms, with a strong program of pre- and post-loan resources available for our clients.

UNY: Why is this service necessary, here and now?

DJ: We’ve been operating in Buffalo since March 2017. As a nonprofit alternative lending source, usually serving people in disadvantaged communities, we help both existing small business owners and new entrepreneurs, in geographic areas like Buffalo where there has been decades of systemic redlining and economic exclusion. These clients would not be able to get these loans, plus the technical assistance we provide, walking into a regular traditional bank. It is our mission to provide this access to these individuals and communities.

UNY: How do you provide the loans?

DJ: We have a $1.4 million portfolio; we’ve funded 40 small businesses in the Buffalo region. A lot of those loans are in the smaller dollar amounts, from $5,000 to $30,000. We also have wonderful banking partners, like KeyBank, M&T, Five-Star Bank, and community resource partners like Community Action Organization, to help build up a pipeline of viable small businesses.

UNY: What other types of assistance do you provide?

DJ: Many clients need help with all kinds of technical and literacy skills, from general financial knowledge, to taxes and bookkeeping, to how to improve their credit. A big part of what we do is pre-loan technical assistance, even as early as the ideation stage. If someone isn’t sure which type of business entity they should register as, or if their business requires licensing or certification, we help with research and education.

Adam Tidrow: The biggest challenge is understanding why someone wants to open a business, and vetting whether they’re ready. They might not know where to start, or feel overwhelmed. It’s our job to take some of that burden and guide them through the process.

UNY: How do you provide these in-depth resources?

DJ: We meet with clients one-on-one, and also have several workshop series—it’s all free. There’s a business development education series that is part of technical assistance program, which we’re rebranding as “BizUp Buffalo!” We also subcontract technical assistance with professionals like CPAs, attorneys, labor/employment experts, who work directly with our clients.
We are presenting a new financial literacy workshop, provided by David Kraus and Connie Campanaro of NuLevel Strategies. The goal is to address people’s needs, challenges, or barriers, and figure out how we can help them build a more financially sustainable business. With information we gather from clients, we’re always working to develop more flexible loan products and services.

AT: We help clients with everything from basic accounting, to connecting them with a graphic or web designer. We can help existing business owners with strategy, by asking things like, “Where do you want to be in a year?” then working on the concepts and steps to get there.

UNY: What if they are not a good fit for a loan from you?

DJ: We’re a partner in Capital Connect—a Buffalo CDFI collaborative that provides a one-stop online portal where people can fill out a brief intake form and get referred to the appropriate CDFI lender for them. The other Capital Connect partners include LaunchNY, Excelsior Growth Fund, and WEDI, which is focused on micro lending, serving many in the immigrant, refugee, and asylee populations. If we think that a potential borrower can qualify for a lower-rate bank loan than we can offer, we will refer them to one of our banking partners. We try to do what’s best for our clients.

Interviews conducted and condensed by Jana Eisenberg.

Read more articles by Jana Eisenberg.

Jana Eisenberg is a Buffalo-based freelance writer/editor. In October, 2019, she was named managing editor of UpstartNY. She grew up in Los Angeles, called NYC home for 20 years, and now enjoys telling the stories of life in Western New York.
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