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Small Loans Can Fuel Big Dreams

Couple starts bike shop with financing from Mercy Corps Northwest (Originally posted in The Portland Tribune – see here)

By Peter Korn
The Portland Tribune, January 7, 2010


Eric Deady watches as friend Sam Williams (left) takes some measurements at the new Bike Commuter shop in Sellwood. Deady and his wife Naihma (holding their son Felix) got help from Mercy Corps Northwest in starting the business. L.E. BASKOW / TRIBUNE PHOTO

The odds are good for Eric and Naihma Deady.

It may not seem so. The two are starting their own business, and neither has much entrepreneurial experience. They’re doing it during hard times, in a city which is among the most economically hard hit in the country. And the shop they plan to open in Sellwood is a bike shop, something not completely unheard of in Portland.

But when the Deadys open their bike shop Jan. 8, they will be doing so with the help of a $27,000 micro loan from local nonprofit Mercy Corps Northwest. And the recipients of micro loans, from Mercy Corps and a few other local agencies, appear to be defying the odds against startup companies, even in these difficult times.

They’re paying back their loans, and their businesses are surviving, despite the fact that they generally are people to whom banks won’t lend.

“For me, it’s been a 20-year-long dream building up to this day,” Eric Deady says of this week’s opening. An avid biker, he had been working as a deckhand on tugboats in recent years, training to be a pilot. But the couple has a 10-year-old daughter and a baby girl, and the prospect of Eric being away from home for long periods didn’t fit with the Deadys’ vision of the future.

Running a bike store tailored to bike commuters, and having it located about a hundred steps from where they live, seems to both Deadys the perfect marriage of lifestyle and interests. They envision The Bike Commuter as an open space where people can learn about bike commuting and take free bike-repair classes.

But banks wouldn’t lend the Deadys money, primarily because they don’t have collateral. Mercy Corps Northwest stepped in with a micro loan, and the attached strings that help explain why the lender has a default rate on its loans of less than 6 percent.

More than just a loan

Mercy Corps Northwest, in addition to providing money, has required the Deadys to go to monthly training sessions with business consultants. The couple is learning bookkeeping and accounting and simple management practices for questions such as when to charge for small repairs, and when to provide them free of charge.

“Their primary goal is to support the business they’re funding and to create an environment of learning, so the business becomes successful,” Eric Deady says. “It isn’t just, ‘Here, let’s throw some money at you and hope for the best.’ A traditional bank, after they do all their homework and give you the money, they just want their payment.”

Every month when the Deadys send in their loan repayment check they must include a copy of their profit and loss statement for the month. “That’s their way of keeping up on how our business is doing,” Naihma says.

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