Accion Texas Inc.
A Brief History
In the early 1990s, Accion International, an organization known for its efforts to help people help themselves through successful microlending in Latin America, wanted to see if its concept could also work in the United States.
Its leadership tested the idea successfully in New York and then took it to four heavily Hispanic cities – Albuquerque, Chicago, San Antonio and San Diego — working with community and financial leaders in each city.
In San Antonio, there was enthusiasm from the start. Alfonso Martinez-Fonts, then chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and San Antonio president of Texas Commerce Bank, got the ball rolling and Frost Bank, Wells Fargo, and Broadway Bank stepped up to the plate, offering $125,000 at zero percent interest to support such a loan program if it took off. A $50,000 grant for operations from Levi-Strauss quickly followed.
The next step was to find an executive who combined a sense of social responsibility with business acumen.
Janie Barrera was the perfect fit. And she has served as president and CEO ever since.
The early years
In March 1994, Accion Texas Inc. was established as a 501(c)(3) organization (nonprofit) and three new staff members joined Janie, creating the Accion Texas Inc. team. They made their first loan in June 1994.
Janie and her team believed that using Accion International’s concept could change lives by offering the capital and education that would help boost economic self-sufficiency in communities throughout South Texas. They worked to secure additional grants from socially responsible foundations that were committed to the concept of “a hand up, rather than a handout.” The Meadows Foundation committed $500,000, and others soon followed.
Accion provided vital funding, including working capital, to small businesses that, for various reasons, could not secure it through banks. The team rose to the challenge, working as loan officers, collectors, marketers and fundraisers.
As the organization grew, the team also learned the value of technical assistance to help entrepreneurs manage their businesses and their funds – and how to find this support through partnering with community organizations. The team worked hard to build personal relationships with borrowers to ensure loan payback.
Over the years, Accion Texas helped those small businesses – car lots and hair salons, restaurants, barbershops, builders, daycare centers, service companies and more – that represent nearly 90 percent of Texas employers. Accion Texas’ loans helped them buy their equipment and supplies, and other essential services and materials, as well as build the credit scores they needed to become “bankable” as they grew larger.
For the banks that had committed support, the young organization turned out to be an excellent investment. Banks could refer loans that were too small or where bad credit made them high-risk, and, at the same time, fulfill their Community Reinvestment Act requirements with their financial commitments.
Accion Texas grew quickly, opening small offices around the state to meet the huge demand for loans, and continued to expand the San Antonio team. Entrepreneurs with great ideas began to call the organization that had put other businesses on their feet, helping them to be profitable and improving their communities with new jobs, and new products and services. The success stories are human and touching – and there are literally thousands of them.
In 2009, we expanded our lending operations into Louisiana and, two years later, into six other states. We now employ nearly 100 people in eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.
Accion Texas has made nearly 15,000 loans with more than $166 million in small business loans. We now offer business loans between $500 and $250,000 (and up to $5.5 million in Texas through the SBA 504 lending program), along with training, networking and other support services for hardworking entrepreneurs.
In 2012, Accion Texas joined forces with our sister organizations, Accion Chicago, Accion East, Accion New Mexico-Arizona-Colorado and Accion San Diego, to create a membership organization called the Accion U.S. Network. Together, we comprise the nation’s largest microlending network with more than $406 million disbursed and nearly 50,000 loans made since its inception in 1994.