CHICAGO--(EON: Enhanced Online News)--Since she was 15 years old, Leticia “Letty” Vélez dreamed of being her own boss and creating a business from scratch. In 2004, she set out to achieve that dream by launching Chicago Mini Bus Travel™. In less than a decade, her business has become the Chicagoland area’s largest mini bus transportation company. By all accounts it is thriving.
“We don’t give away money, but we also don’t charge usurious rates to maximize our profit margin like others do. We have the right risk models, processes and experience to lend responsibly to businesses we know can make a meaningful difference in their communities. Our loans put people to work.”
Despite growing 60 percent last year, Letty’s business nearly hit the skids when she went to her bank for a $250,000 loan. Although her bank turned her down, Letty got the money her business needed from the Chicagoland Business Opportunity Fund, a local small business loan fund from Aquaria Funds, a non-profit small business lender whose mission is to create and sustain more jobs.
Aquaria Funds is expanding nationally to change the way small business lending is done. Its proven approach is a sustainable and impactful way to make capital more available to small businesses that otherwise can’t get it, so they have the resources they need to start up or grow.
This week, Aquaria Funds and its Chicagoland Business Opportunity Fund, which is backed by an $8 million commitment from the UBS Elevating Entrepreneurs initiative, is being featured during a series of events at Chicago Small Business Week.
“Aquaria Funds has found success where others have failed. Too many small businesses and start-ups, especially those owned by women and minorities, can’t get the money they need to grow. We’re here to close this lending gap, create jobs, and change the way small business lending is done,” said Roberto Barragan, CEO and president of Aquaria Funds.
Aquaria Funds differs from banks and for-profit alternative lenders because of its community-based approach and emphasis on the long-term impact of its loans. Barragan cites the organization’s independence from the quarterly earnings obsessions of Wall Street and venture capitalists as a competitive advantage.
“Aquaria Funds is a non-profit organization, not a charity,” he said. “We don’t give away money, but we also don’t charge usurious rates to maximize our profit margin like others do. We have the right risk models, processes and experience to lend responsibly to businesses we know can make a meaningful difference in their communities. Our loans put people to work.”
Aquaria Funds currently offers local small business funds throughout California, Nevada, and the Chicago metro area. It will launch funds in other major cities over the next several months.
The organization evolved from the Valley Economic Development Center, the largest small business development corporation in Los Angeles, which has a 37-year track record of lending money responsibly to women- and minority-owned small businesses in the region. Additional local small business funds include the Small Business California Loan Program in San Francisco and the Nevada Microenterprise Initiative in Las Vegas.
“Our growing national footprint enables small businesses, banks and foundations to work with one experienced partner and have a greater impact. By giving small business owners a range of options, including direct loans, micro-loans and SBA guaranteed loans, they can find the one that best fits their need,” Barragan said.
Aquaria Funds is a desirable partner to many of the nation’s largest financial institutions, including Bank of America, Chase, Dignity Healthcare, Goldman Sachs, UBS and Wells Fargo. It helps banks meet their federally mandated Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) requirements to address the needs of borrowers in all segments of their communities.
To date, Aquaria Funds has close to $330 million in direct and guaranteed loans to small businesses. It has served more than 100,000 clients, created more than 18,000 jobs and helped start 1,900 businesses. In the upcoming months, Aquaria Funds plans to expand its reach to additional major cities across the country.
For more information, visit www.aquariafunds.com.
About Aquaria Funds
Aquaria Funds is a non-profit small business lender that is changing the way small business lending is done by making it more available, sustainable and impactful. Aquaria Funds benefits from the 37-year heritage of the Valley Economic Development Center, which has lent $330 million in direct and guaranteed loans to 100,000 small businesses and created more than 18,000 jobs. Aquaria Funds operates the Valley Economic Development Center in Los Angeles, the Small Business California Loan Program in San Francisco, the Nevada Microenterprise Initiative in Las Vegas and the Chicagoland Business Opportunity Fund in Chicago.