Community Ventures’ long-running success helping Kentucky entrepreneurs launch successful small businesses has netted them the Kentucky Small Business Administration’s Microlender of the Year award for the 19th year in a row. Of the aggregate 142 microloans made to small businesses across the Commonwealth between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021, a total of 114 loans amounting to $1,138,050 were sourced by Community Ventures.
And if that accomplishment isn’t impressive enough, CV’s long-time Business Development Specialist Pam Russell was lauded as the 2021 SBA Heavy Hitter for effecting the most individual loans as well as her exemplary teamwork.
“I am honored to be among this elite group,” said Russell. “ Our Heavy Hitters usually come from urban areas and I am down here in rural America.”
The microlending team is headed up by Lew Whalen, Vice President of Lending for Community Ventures. But Whalen insists the success of the microlending program is due to the hard work and dedication of his team that assists clients in urban and rural areas of Kentucky from offices located in Lexington, Louisville, Owensboro, Campbellsville and Bowling Green.
Through SBA grants aimed at educating new and aspiring start-ups, Community Ventures’ microlending team provided an incredible 11,000 hours of pre- and post-loan technical assistance to small business owners over the past year. A significant amount of time was spent helping clients access federal COVID Relief funding aimed at helping small businesses mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
“Technical assistance is the bulk of the business development specialists’ jobs. They help our clients navigate the challenges of starting and running a small business,” explained Whalen. “They teach them how to develop a business plan. They help them understand legal issues and technology, and navigate programs and access resources.
“Many of the people that come to us are those that can’t get credit through the banks, typically because of their credit score or lack of collateral. Our people help with both financial literacy and credit rebuilding, in short to make the client “bankable.” We partner with the Women’s Business Center, SCORE, Small Business Development Center and others. We’re very proud of the work we’ve been able to do.
Russell, who previously worked at a bank as a mortgage loan processor and a car dealership in finance and insurance has been with Community Ventures for 22 years. She agrees that technical assistance for aspiring entrepreneurs is a big part of what she and all the business development specialists do.
When asked if she has any favorite success stories that come immediately to mind, it is clear that Russell’s problem is that she has too many from which to choose. Marjorie Holtzclaw opened her hair salon—Slight Edge Salon & Spa —several years ago in Campbellsville. She has now expanded to include spa services and therapeutic massage and has added several staff members.
And with Russell’s help, farmer Anthony Knox of Clay City brought both his entrepreneurial dream and the recipe for beef jerky that he had been perfecting from the age of 13 to life when he launched Wildman Beef Jerky. Knox, with the help of his wife and an SBA Micro loan assisted by Community Ventures has expanded his product line to include Wildman Brand Barbecue Sauce and Salsas.
”He is very focused,” Russell laughed. “And driven. He grows his own vegetables and raises his own cattle. to make his products. Everything is processed on his farm. Even though Mr. Knox is in Clay City and I am in Campbellsville, with today’s technology I was able to provide technical assistance online due to COVID-19. He taught me alot about food processes.
I enjoy my work, it is work that helps others. People need people to help them realize their dreams. It is what my team and I do. It’s a good feeling at the end of the day when people succeed in launching or expanding their business or just get their credit and finances straight so they are bankable. That means we have done our job.”