This time of year at Ventures is cozy, festive and connected. Our office is decorated with tinsel and bows, and fully stocked with homemade goodies to share. Our team is meeting with clients, donors, volunteers and partners at local businesses to let them know how much we appreciate them. We’d end the year together, shopping for gifts and goodies at the Ventures Marketplace–also decorated with tinsel and bows–then celebrate the year’s accomplishments in the company of our families at the annual holiday party.
Though we ache to be able to safely celebrate in-person again, this year–our 25th anniversary–has been a true testament to the resiliency and connectedness of our community. Much like entrepreneurship, Ventures’ story has had unexpected twists and turns. And, like our client businesses, who have had to pivot, transform, chop and change this year, we did too. We have been fortunate for our investments five key areas to ensure we could continue serving entrepreneurs without skipping a beat this year:
- Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – Over a decade ago, we began our diversity, equity and inclusion journey by launching our Latinx program. As the only bilingual provider in the state, one-third of our clients are Spanish-speaking. This program laid the foundation for us to be a community-centered and inclusive organization through our advocacy efforts, rural expansion and internal process alignment with these values. It is our commitment to these values that made Ventures the go-to partner for centering diverse voices and businesses.
In 2020, we swiftly responded to the Black Lives Matter movement and, for the first time in our history, opened our services (previously income-restricted) to any business owner in need.
2. Retail Store Innovation and Refresh – Not too long ago, our retail store was located in Pioneer Square. Though a great neighborhood, it was no match to the customer exposure of Pike Place Market. In 2018, we remodeled and rebranded our retail store, the Ventures Marketplace at Pike Place, allowing us to hit the $1 million mark in checks distributed to clients from store sales since inception.
This year, to ensure entrepreneurs could continue earning revenue through our store, we put dozens of products on our online marketplace in less than one week! We have been able to capitalize on our local and national following, attracted as a result of our location, to continue remote operations.
3. New and Committed Leadership – Though I have been with Ventures for just about 13 years, I was not made Executive Director until 2014. With any transition of leadership comes change, but our leadership change five years ago enabled Ventures’ to transform into the sustainable and reliable nonprofit it is today. Now on staff for more than half of the organization’s history, I am supported by a brilliant executive leadership who has lead the team to serve more than 600 entrepreneurs on an annual basis.
This year, our team was able to transition our pitch contest online, serve 673 entrepreneurs., provide 1514 hours of coaching, and deliver 6134 hours across 25 training opportunities.
4. Organizational Rebrand and Remodel – As a nonprofit, we are committed to ensuring that resources are used efficiently. This means making investments in “overhead” items like marketing, office remodeling and systems improvement. In the past five years, Ventures has made this strategic effort to improve client satisfaction, employee engagement and operational sustainability.
While many were ill-prepared to transition online, Ventures was ready with virtual meeting platforms, phone systems and file organization having been online for years. Though we, too, have sincerely missed the break room chats and snack bar, our investment in these operations has paid dividends in this year of remote work.
5. Financial Systems and Lending Team – Ventures has been a certified Community Development Financial Institution since 1999, and established our revolving loan fund shortly after our founding. As a lender, we take financial fitness seriously and have made significant investments in our processes, systems, and staff who move money. Our small but mighty financial services team of four have hit record numbers in the past few years, ultimately deploying $1.8 million in capital since inception, and our average loan size is $2,500. What’s more, their dedication to relationship-based financial services has retained a 99.29% repayment rate for the past five years.
Though many businesses had to close their doors, they still owed rent. Ventures met the moment with by developing a simple, non-intrusive and direct business grant opportunity that deployed $910,000 to 290 entrepreneurs. Our team also covered loan payments and helped business owners access $1 million in other grant opportunities.
Our 25th year has been bittersweet. We did not get to hug the entrepreneur who paid down their loan. We did not get to celebrate our entrepreneurs at graduation. We did not get to gather and toast these accomplishments. But, 2020 was our year to do everything we could to save the businesses we love.
And, while we have always known small businesses are the backbone of our economy, many in our community did not. It was not until cafes closed that people truly realized how important their local coffee shop was. It was not until we could not gather to give gifts that we realized handmade and local actually supports a human’s well-being. 2020 was your year to support your neighbors.
Wishing you and yours a merry and healthy holiday season.