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Getting off the ground

A nonprofit corporation offers microloans for women and minorities to help pay start-up costs for new businesses
Friday, September 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:54 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

When Diane Patrick decided to expand her home-based day-care business, she had no idea how big her dream would grow.

But with the help of a new microloan program from Columbia’s nonprofit Enterprise Development Corp., Patrick’s dreams have materialized in the form of the 4,400-square-foot child-care center nearing completion at 404 McBaine Ave.

Looking to expand

Patrick has been caring for children in her home for seven years. Her good standing among friends and neighbors meant she always had plenty of children to watch. But as her reputation grew, she became swamped with requests and was forced to turn people away.

“It started out as a small group of kids, but the calls kept coming,” Patrick said. “I was really limited with what I could do at home, so that’s why I decided to expand it.”

In March 2003, Patrick started looking for a larger house. The problem, however, was that homes on the market wouldn’t meet the licensing requirements for a child-care center.

Patrick began thinking in October about starting from scratch with a new building designed specifically for her growing business. Soon she found the perfect land to build the center of her dreams.

With exciting plans forming in her mind, Patrick’s biggest obstacle became finding money to finance construction. Because she had little business experience, it was hard for Patrick to find a bank willing to fund her idea.

Early on, Patrick said, she got a lot of help from Donna DeLong of Enterprise Development.

“She kind of walked me through every step of the way,” Patrick said.

With DeLong’s help, Patrick obtained a building loan from the federal Small Business Association. Patrick also secured a $30,000 grant from Boone Early Partnership for the equipment she needs to care for infants and children younger than 3, and she got a $75,000 grant from the Missouri Preschool Project that will pay for a classroom for 3- to 5-year-olds.

But Patrick still needed money for other odds and ends.

DeLong advised Patrick to apply for one of Enterprise’s microloans, which are generally used by women and minorities who want to start new businesses. The loans are small, usually between $5,000 and $35,000. Patrick, the first to apply for one, was approved for $17,000.

“It provides them with an opportunity that otherwise these people wouldn’t have,” DeLong said. “Basically it’s opening doors for these people.”

“Some people just need a little capital for advertising and equipment costs,” DeLong added. “It’s very hard to get just a $5,000 loan.”

This is the first year Enterprise Development has offered microloans. The group has $47,500 to issue in microloans this year.

Next year, DeLong hopes to expand the program with $200,000 from the Small Business Association.

“We do believe there is a need for it from the response we’ve gotten,” she said.

New business owners

Mike Schrader, a counselor with MU’s Small Business Development Center, said he sees more women and minorities wanting to open their own businesses in Columbia. He said the center sees about 60 people each year who want to apply for microloans, and most of these people are women and minorities.

“I do see an enterprising spirit among women, and particularly among minorities, that I think is new and exciting,” Schrader said.

Fellow counselor Nick Arends said many people get the idea to open a business from their bosses.

“They say, ‘Hey, he’s making all the money. Why can’t I?’ ” he said.

Patrick said she was more motivated by the needs of her community than by profit.

“With the loans I know I won’t profit a lot,” she said. “But I really feel a need in that neighborhood. These kids truly need a good start.”

Patrick hopes to open Nanny’s Neighborhood Childcare Center in October. It will employ at least 10 people and care for 60 children. “What started out as a small project has grown immensely,” she said.

Bigger and better ideas

Patrick thinks the building could also be used for parenting classes.

“We will talk about how to get your child ready for preschool,” Patrick said. “Some little changes can really make a big difference.”

Patrick said she has also enjoyed a lot of support from friends, neighbors and parishioners from St. Luke’s United Methodist Church as she sought city variances to allow for her project.

“While it may be my business, it is other people coming on board saying ‘I want to support this also’ that really made a difference,” Patrick said.

Although the world of lawyers, architects, zoning variances and loan applications made her head swim at times, Patrick said her willingness to learn the system put everything within reach.

“I grew up in the First Ward, so it’s attainable for anyone,” she said. “But you have to open up your mind and open up your heart and be willing to go out there and learn.”


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