NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TN Tribune) – Pathway Lending today announced it has secured a $1 million grant from the Wells Fargo Open for Business Fund to expand Flex Fund – a new source of “patient” growth capital – to minority-and woman-owned businesses in key markets across Tennessee, including Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville. Pathway Lending will work with existing and new clients to identify and invite entrepreneurs to participate in Flex Fund over the coming year.
Tennessee small businesses that meet Flex Fund requirements may qualify for funding ranging from $25,000 to $250,000 with terms of two to five years. Pathway Lending’s Flex Fund is an alternative to debt and equity. A portion of the amount is treated as debt the business must repay with interest, and the remainder as a share of revenue, equity, or deferred interest the business can wait to repay when the term ends. The approach frees capital from regular debt payments, so businesses can invest in growth right away by adding more employees, pursuing a new business opportunity or other growth initiatives.
Wells Fargo provided the grant to Pathway Lending as part of its Open for Business Fund, a roughly $420 million small business recovery effort aimed at supporting entrepreneurs across the U.S. to recover and rebuild after the pandemic.
“We know small businesses are the heartbeat of our communities,” said Wells Fargo Senior Vice President and Community Relations Senior Consultant Paula Beck. “We’re working alongside Pathway Lending, and other great organizations across the country, to support a more inclusive economic recovery, with a focus on racial and social equity so small businesses can emerge from this pandemic stronger and more resilient.”
“The capital needs of growth-minded small businesses can be as varied as the entrepreneurs themselves,” said Hank Helton, Pathway Lending EVP and chief stakeholder officer. “Too often, small businesses trade growth for debt repayment or ownership for equity capital, which can diminish a business’s ability to build wealth where it’s needed. That’s why we created the Flex Fund.”
Phillip Ashley Chocolates represents one such business in Memphis that turned to Pathway Lending for growth capital. Established in 2012, the chocolatier quickly achieved fame with some of the world’s top tastemakers and made “Oprah’s Favorite Things List” in November 2020.
With funding from Pathway’s Flex Fund, the business purchased an automatic tempering machine to speed production, upgraded its packaging, engaged a firm to help it expand internationally, and created 15 new jobs paying $15 per hour in a low-to-moderate income Memphis district. The business grew substantially and now plans to add more staff and purchase its first building.
“We’ve been breaking the boundaries of conventional chocolate making since 2012, and the international following we’ve earned has put us in the fortunate position of needing to grow fast enough to keep up with demand,” said Phillip Ashley Rix, owner and chef. “Partnering with Pathway Lending has given our business the fuel it needed to sustain our growth and reach a point where we’re ready to purchase a permanent home for our business.”
To date, Pathway Lending has invested an average of $70,000 in funding to eight, Black-owned Memphis area small businesses. Along with funding, all Flex Fund awardees receive advisory services from Pathway’s financial and marketing experts plus access to learning programs focused on resiliency-related topics like scenario-based planning that Pathway Lending created and will continue to offer as part of the grant from Wells Fargo.
Created to accelerate revenue and job growth among Memphis minority-owned businesses, Pathway Lending first established its Flex Fund in 2019 as a pilot project with philanthropic support from Kresge and FedEx Foundations and in collaboration with Epicenter, The 800 Initiative and Christian Brothers University. The Flex Fund has supported Memphis entrepreneurs of color broadly with a particular focus on Black-owned businesses involved in The 800 Initiative and firms with paid employees or promising growth opportunities.
Small business owners who would like to learn more about Pathway Flex Fund can contact Keith Hickey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since 2015, Wells Fargo has provided Pathway Lending with nearly $1.77 million in grants through the Wells Fargo Foundation and the Open for Business Fund.