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Philadelphia Nonprofit Wants to Give Latino Entrepreneurs the Capital Boost They Need

Greenline Access Capital is closing both funding and networking gaps for small businesses across the city. 

By Bianca Gonzalez

When Juan Placencia opened a ghost kitchen in Philadelphia at the end of 2020, the experience wasn’t what he expected. Even with his impressive credentials — he is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of Arts and has experience in Michelin-starred restaurants and working with James Beard award-winner Christina Martinez — he struggled to make his take-out restaurant successful.

"The investment in partaking in this type of system was much higher than a brick and mortar, but it wasn't advertised that way,” he says. “Since then I began looking for a restaurant space."

Placencia eventually found the right establishment on South Street in Philadelphia. With the help of a $10,000 loan for start-up expenses from local CDFI Greenline Access Capital, Placenia opened Brazas BBQ Chicken

Placencia, a Peruvian immigrant, found Greenline by getting involved with Philadelphia's small business associations. "Clients want to work with us because we have a reputation for helping small businesses in the community," says Kersy Azocar, the president and CEO of Greenline Access Capital. 

While there are 13 CDFIs in Philadelphia, Greenline is unique in that it caters to Latino and immigrant entrepreneurs. There is a growing need for culturally relevant, equitable financial services for Latino entrepreneurs across the country: The number of Latino-owned businesses in the U.S. grew by 34% between 2007 and 2019

Greenline was founded in 2021, and in its first year of operation, provided technical assistance to over 100 clients and assisted in securing 45 grants and loans from federal and state programs, as well as from local CDFIs, totaling over $2.9 million. The funder also granted $62,000 worth of microloans through their own loan fund. 

Greenline also provides culturally relevant financial services, technical assistance and business workshops. They partner with other organizations, creating community and providing social capital for clients, and work to eliminate barriers that distinctly affect Latino and immigrant entrepreneurs, such as language barriers and a lack of trust in banks.

"About 90% of our clients are Spanish speaking,” Azocar says. “You can know English superficially, but once I start asking for a financial statement, that sounds unfamiliar and makes people afraid of financing." For this reason, Greenline has a fully bilingual staff.

Greenline also focuses on working with small and micro-businesses, like Placenia’s restaurant. As of 2021, almost 8 million small businesses in the US have less than 20 employees, and 57% of all businesses in the US have less than 5 employees

"There's so much need, even though Philadelphia has over 13 CDFIs," Azocar says. "Not all of them are bilingual. Not all of them cater to small businesses. We are really working with clients that nobody's working with."

Greenline’s approach, both in terms of funding and support building social capital, appealed to Placencia. 

"Having the opportunity to secure funding in a less conventional way resonated with me," Placencia says. "When you ask for a loan from a regular bank, they require a lot more, and at the time I didn't have all the credentials to secure that type of funding."

Greenline invited Placencia to showcase his restaurant at different events, helped him apply for grants from other funding sources, and showcased him on social media. They also connected him to a 12-week business class with one of their partners.

Seeing how he was able to benefit from collaborating with organizations, inspired him to integrate his business with a community. One of the criteria for the location of the restaurant in the first place "was finding a space large enough to share with community members."

He's partnered with Mercado de Latinas, a network of women vendors from Mexico and Central America who sell artisanal goods. They began during the pandemic and combined in-person and online opportunities to sell their products.

"We're going to have them as a resident in the restaurant, where they can sell and showcase some of their handicrafts and products that they're currently selling now," he says. "It could be the beginning of creating an incubator for aspiring business owners."

This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lenses of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is developed in partnership with Next City.