Advancing women’s empowerment with affordable loans

The Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, powered by Bank of America, aims to increase the number and grow the size of women-owned businesses in the U.S. by connecting women entrepreneurs to affordable loans. Loans are administered through community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that provide credit and financial services to underserved markets and populations.

Through the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, Bank of America has committed $50 million in loans since the program’s start in 2014. So far, more than 1,400 women entrepreneurs have received affordable loans across 16 states.

Jump to a spotlight story:

Toni Ricci and Elite Dance and Performing Arts Center

Toni Ricci
Owner, Elite Dance and Performing Arts Center
Los Angeles, Calif.

Early on, I knew that I wanted to own a dance studio. After my first recital, it was dance forever, and from there, it became my life’s mission to make it happen.

My journey to business ownership was not easy. I didn’t have money growing up, and later on, it was hard to access capital. I worked six jobs and went to school – teaching dance along the way. While teaching, I focused on building relationships with the studios, networking and learning all I could. One of the studios eventually went up for sale. It was the opportunity I needed, but I soon realized the hurdles ahead. With a low credit score and no savings, it was impossible to get a loan. All I heard was “no.”

But it didn’t stop me. I had a network and used that to get started. I contacted friends, parents of students, and my community. Eventually, I found a space – although it needed a lot of work, I knew it was a good starting point for a studio. In March 2012, Elite Dance and Performing Arts Center was incorporated and officially opened the following September.

With zero dollars in my account and limited resources, I knew immediately that working capital was needed to keep the business going. It’s easy to get frustrated, but I encourage women business owners to not give up. Although traditional lending sources were not available to me, there were local resources. Once I connected with VEDC, a nonprofit community lender in Los Angeles, I learned about the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, funded by Bank of America. VEDC was instrumental in helping me walk through specific capital needs for my business, and also offered training courses to help me sustain my business. In 2016, I secured a loan and my business flourished.

We started with 60 students and two rooms; now, we have nearly 400 students and offer more than 100 weekly classes in four studios. We also train 15 competitive teams that travel across the country. Elite Dance has 20 employees, including three full-time staff members. As a way to give back, we engage with the local community through charity events, community performances and summer dance camps.

Although my dream became a reality, it was tough getting to this point. As a woman business owner, I experienced unique challenges. There was a lot I had to navigate on my own, such as pulling permits, researching, and managing relationships. As women, we may feel paralyzed by fear of the unknown or being judged, but it’s important to recognize your capabilities and not allow anything to derail you from fulfilling your dreams.

Learn more about the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, powered by Bank of America.

Andrea Pedraza and CocoAndré

Andrea Pedraza
Founder, CocoAndré
Dallas, Texas

Laid off within months of each other during the recession, Andrea Pedraza and her daughter Cindy decided to take matters quite literally into their own hands. Andrea had been hand-making chocolate for over 30 years, perfecting her craft as a Master European truffle maker. The pair opened their chocolatier, CocoAndré, in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood, transforming a gutted-out space into a small storefront where customers bought chocolate based on reputation alone—there was no room for even a display counter.

In 2015, the mother-daughter team looked to acquire a loan to expand their business, but faced resistance everywhere they turned. Eventually they found PeopleFund, a community lender that provided a loan through the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program. The program, powered by Bank of America, connects U.S. women entrepreneurs to affordable loans to help grow their businesses.

The loan enabled Andrea and Cindy to purchase additional equipment, and provided working capital needed to open an updated storefront with a fully functioning kitchen, seating area and display case. Since then, Andrea and Cindy have hired two women employees, becoming the first women-occupied, owner-owned, Hispanic business in Oak Cliff.

When asked if women have certain skills that make them well-equipped to be business owners, Cindy, who now has children of her own, stated: “Yes. We put our passion and our heart into it. We pour every part of our being into our business. Just like our children…we treat our business just like that. The business becomes something you’re nurturing, something you want to grow and succeed and have other people be as proud of it as you are. I think every woman has that spirit in them.”

Learn more about the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, powered by Bank of America.

Stevie Howell Textiles

Stevie Howell
Owner, Stevie Howell Textiles

As an artist and textile designer, Stevie Howell finds inspiration in everything, from her travels to Uruguay to the natural settings in her hometown of Oakland, California. In 2013 Stevie turned this inspiration into something wearable, designing scarves with textile patterns based on her paintings. Soon she expanded to other pieces with simple silhouettes – robes, kimonos and loungewear – all showcasing her paintings as wearable works of art.

To grow her business, Stevie applied for a loan through the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program. Powered by Bank of America, the program connects U.S. women entrepreneurs to affordable loans to help grow women’s businesses.

Stevie received a loan from Opportunity Fund, one of 11 community lenders administering the loans as part of the program. With the loan, Stevie hired her first employee and focused on getting the word out about her designs, helping the business expand even more.

“Bank of America and Tory Burch Foundation have really helped me grow my business, in terms of hiring my first employee, being able to travel with the collection, being able to meet people and being able to get my product more into the world. Having them support me and knowing that they believe in my business is pretty powerful,” Stevie says.

To learn more about Stevie and her story, watch her video.

Andrea Thomas and ScratchMeNot

Andrea Thomas
Owner, ScratchMeNot
Dallas, Texas

Oftentimes the best ideas are born from personal challenges. As a new mom with a two-month-old daughter, I expected the lack of sleep and irregular schedule. Yet, the one thing I didn’t foresee was her development of eczema and the endless scratching that came with it. After trying many products that didn't work successfully, I decided to take action and create my own.

I began to develop the prototype for what I now call the ScratchMeNot™. Our protective flip mitten™ sleeves protect infants and children from the short- and long-term effects of scratching. The ScratchMeNot products started helping my daughter’s skin heal and prevented new skin damage, so I knew they would help other families dealing with similar issues. They could become a part of an itchy-skin regimen, offering kids relief and parents’ peace, in a fun and fashionable way.

As the popularity of ScratchMeNot Flip Mittens grew, I knew it was imperative to scale beyond my limited manufacturing capacity. I soon realized that finding a great idea is only half the battle, and I needed a greater cash flow to keep my business growing to reach more families.

That’s where the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program came in. By partnering with PeopleFund, a local community lender participating in the program, ScratchMeNot has been able to exceed our growth expectations through the loan we were able to acquire in 2015.

The loan enabled me to increase manufacturing, growing my business by 74 percent. I was also able to focus on marketing our efforts and increasing brand awareness through social media advertising and physician engagement. Access to capital has been necessary for our growth to further my company’s mission, and I am always inspired by the impact our products have on the lives of children around the globe.

Thanks to the Tory Burch Foundation, PeopleFund, and Bank of America, my husband and I are building a legacy as entrepreneurial role models for our five children and our community.

Learn more about the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, powered by Bank of America.

Kim Hughes and BKJ & Associates, Inc.

Kim Hughes
Owner, BKJ & Associates, Inc.
St. Louis, Mo.

It all started at my dining room table. After years of working in the tax industry, I knew I had what it took to run my own company. In 1994, I decided to take a leap and started BKJ Accounting and Tax Services – linking my daughters’ initials to form the name of my accounting and tax firm. I was the sole proprietor at first, preparing individual tax returns part-time and working full-time as an auditor for various companies.

Over the years, I was able to grow my business. When my daughters began college, I launched the accounting and tax service full-time – all funded from my own pocket. Working both from my home and the St. Louis business district, I developed a solid client base but soon realized that it would be challenging to sustain growth without some help. That’s when I learned about the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program from justine PETERSEN, a local nonprofit community microlender partnering in the program.

Because of the Tory Burch Foundation, Bank of America and justine PETERSEN, I was able to secure an affordable loan in 2014 to help grow my business. With their financial support, my business went from a sole proprietorship to being incorporated as BKJ & Associates, Inc. I also purchased critical software to keep my business competitive with larger accounting firms. The major benefit of this software enables my company to prepare tax returns remotely for individuals and businesses throughout the U.S., including nonprofits. My clients are not only local, they reach California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Missouri, Illinois, Texas, Louisiana and several other states.

The loan also allowed me to expand my network by joining professional organizations. These groups have broadened my contacts within the industry and introduced me to new clients. This development has helped guide my ongoing education, especially in a highly compliance-driven industry, and none of this could have been done without the support of Bank of America and the Tory Burch Foundation.

Outside of my professional development, I was able to hire a seasonal employee to help manage the high volume of work during tax season. I believe in giving back to my community, and being able to hire someone from my community who is skilled and eager makes me feel like I’m doing just that. I have a diverse customer base, and their presence in my neighborhood has opened the eyes of onlookers who may need some encouragement. Neighbors and community members can witness my business’s operations firsthand and hopefully gain a desire to do something positive and develop something sustainable, as well. Owning a successful business allows me to sustain my family and also transform the attitudes and aspirations of my community – encouraging a sense of pride, community and growth.

Having access to capital has enabled me to grow my business and support my family and community. Women are proven idea generators and problem solvers, and with the right support, we can bring these ideas to life in a positive way. I am forever grateful for the support I’ve received, and I hope that other women entrepreneurs can reap the benefits of such support.

Learn more about the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, powered by Bank of America.

Shirley Pino and RedWing Design

Shirley Pino
Owner, RedWing Design
Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M.

I remember watching my mother sew when I was very young. When I turned 12, my mother began to teach me the craft of sewing – the details of seams, collars and hems – which would have a tremendous impact on my life years later.

In the early ‘90s, I was managing an event planning business when I began sewing as a seamstress for cultural stage performances. This is where my mother’s skills and teaching helped me. The traditional attire I created was used by Native American and other heritage performers, including bands, storytellers and cultural dancers. It was a very busy time, and eventually, I realized that downsizing and changing my line of work would allow me to spend more time with my family and focus on my role as one of the eldest sisters in our traditional way of life.

My seamstress work evolved into RedWing Design, a company that I’ve successfully owned and operated since 1997. I began to receive orders from people who saw my clothing designs on stage. Now I’m very focused on the sewing business, where I make my own patterns and take a more active role in the design process.

Recognizing that my business needed a more efficient workspace to keep up with demand, I secured a Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program loan in 2016 through Accion, a local community loan center partnering in the program. With the loan, I was able to purchase equipment and supplies, such as a computerized sewing machine, a cutting table, a state-of-the-art steam iron, an oversized ironing board, and fabric. With the equipment, supplies and tools in my studio, there’s a more organized and efficient operation for my business. It’s a place where I’m able to create many more clothing pieces and products overall, helping to meet customer demand and grow my business.

Today, RedWing Design has five part-time employees, and offers traditional and contemporary Pueblo clothing for adults and children. I’m serving customers in New Mexico, New York, Washington, Arizona and Hawaii from tribes like the Seneca of New York; the Colville, Lumee and San Poi of Washington; the Hopi in Arizona; the Pueblo people; the Navajo Nation; and other indigenous tribes, as well as many individual customers.

It’s important to note that having access to capital goes beyond growing my business. I’m one the eldest sisters in my family and an elder in my tribe. As many do, I have roles and responsibilities within my family, so when I was able to secure a loan, it removed some of the financial hardship. I realized that I was going to be able to balance what was important to me – growing my business, taking care of my family and giving back to my community.

Caring for elders in the community and helping other families is an important part of my way of life and beliefs. The success of my business allows me to support others by giving garments to those in need and donating to fundraisers to help a family, other organizations and the community.

The loan was incredibly helpful; it has enabled me to own a fun and successful business, fulfill my goals and dreams, and most importantly, help others through my success.

Learn more about the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, powered by Bank of America.

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