The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

January 5, 2013

NEO Fund helps county entrepreneurs expand, start

If you received a gift of beach glass jewelry from Beaches, sipped coffee at Harbor Perk or ate at the Briquettes Smokehouse over the holidays, you experienced the NEO Fund at work.

The New Enterprise Opportunity fund is a revolving loan fund for Ashtabula County entrepreneurs who want to expand an existing retail, restaurant or professional-services business or start a new one. Up to $30,000 is available to a single business at interest competitive rates.

“Many communities don’t have something like this, so to have this in Ashtabula County is a very positive thing,” said Brian Anderson, executive director of Growth Partnership for Ashtabula.

Shelly Mullen, NEO Fund business development director, said the fund specializes in helping “unbankable” entrepreneurs get the capital and coaching that commercial banks are reluctant to provide. The typical NEO Fund borrower has great enthusiasm and vision, is in his or her 30s and can’t get financed by a bank.  

The application process begins with an informal discussion between the entrepreneur and NEO Fund representatives. Mullen said the interview helps the lender determine if the applicant is truly an entrepreneur or just someone who wants to own a business.

“We look for high quality, but unbankable candidates,” Mullen said. “They are talented, motivated, committed and coachable.”

Being coachable involves working one-on-one with an adviser from the fund and attending monthly NEO Fund workshops throughout the term of the loan (up to five years). Mullen said that kind of hand holding has helped transform businesses that previously were at the point of going out of business.

“We call it the ‘great rehabilitator,’” Mullen said. “Most people are not open to a disciplined business program until their business is on top of them.”

The applicant also must have a credit score of 550 or higher, provide personal references and have a business plan and forecast. Mullen says that latter requirement weeds out 99 percent of fund applicants.

“We never see them again,” she said.

That’s fine; Mullen said the fund is interested in quality, not quality.

“If we get five loans in one year, that will be a lot for us,” she said.

The fund has about $250,000 to lend this year. Additionally, it has applied for a government grant that would inject another $600,000 for lending in 2014.

For more information, send an email to Shelly@NEOfundAC.org, or attend the Profiles Breakfast on Jan. 9 at Kent State University. Call Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County to make a reservation for the breakfast.

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