An organization run by Northwestern students is working hard to keep Evanston’s small business owners afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Helped by a $100,000 contribution from the city of Evanston, Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development (LEND) is offering no-interest loans of up to $5,000 to entrepreneurs hit hard by the crisis. LEND president Femke Munting says the organization seeks to fill an immediate need in the community.
“Right now, businesses need access to capital in a way that isn’t super-daunting and doesn’t take too long,” says Munting, a junior majoring in neuroscience and economics. “We’re helping businesses survive until federal assistance comes through.”
In addition to these loans — LEND has given out nine and counting so far — the group is helping small businesses identify local and federal relief programs. LEND alumni who now work in professional consulting are offering their services pro bono, and the organization is also fundraising through T-shirt and face mask sales.
“The need is very, very real,” Munting says.
This effort is an extension of the work LEND has been doing since 2010, offering two-year, low-interest loans of up to $10,000 to Evanston’s fledging small businesses. LEND is focused primarily on supporting women entrepreneurs and those from other underrepresented groups because, as Munting says, “these groups have historically been left out of traditional capital markets.”
LEND’s membership fluctuates between 12 to 15 undergraduate students, including the group’s executive team. While many students involved in LEND have finance or economics backgrounds, that’s not a requirement, and the organization includes students studying journalism, history, engineering and more.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, LEND since its founding had loaned more than $122,000 to 22 local businesses spanning a range of industries, from home repair and construction to restaurants and hair care services. In addition to loans, LEND also offers business training and helps guide businesses through the application process for grants available through the city of Evanston.
“Small business owners don’t always have the time to get set up on accounting software or think strategically about the year ahead,” Munting says. “We meet monthly with our clients to go over things like that, which really transforms the value of their loan far beyond $10,000.”
Amanecer Taco Shop is one of LEND’s loan recipients. After selling tacos from their food truck for several years, Ana and Mario Vela were eager to move to a brick-and-mortar shop. With help from LEND and other investors, they were able to set up a shop on Main Street and eventually offer their products through other stores across Evanston and Chicago.
“It’s exciting to support business like Amanecer and see them thrive as Ana and Mario have,” Munting says. “When we see someone who, for whatever reason, has been kept out of capital markets or would have to pay high interest to take out a loan, we’re incredibly lucky and proud to fill that gap and give these entrepreneurs a leg up.”