When an entrepreneur wants to start a business, his first instinct is to go talk to his banker. That's natural. When we need money, we go to a bank.
Unfortunately, many bankers reluctantly have to turn these new startup loans down. Unless the entrepreneur has a house that is owned free and clear or other significant assets to serve as collateral, he or she won't meet all the lending requirements of a bank.
I say reluctantly, because the banking business is all about relationships. Bankers like to build relationships with growing companies. They would much rather be saying “yes” to a young company that they think will succeed in the future. Instead, they often end up saying, “I'd like to help you, but …”
The GrowOK Fund, managed by i2E, provides Oklahoma bankers a relationship-saving alternative to “I'd like to help you, but …” GrowOK targets established companies that have cash flow and less than 250 employees. It's a potential financing tool that can provide capital to companies that don't yet meet a bank's lending criteria.
There is considerable flexibility in how the funds can be used, including working capital, market or product expansion, equipment purchase and other activities related to the growth of the business.
GrowOK brings much more than money to the company. We will help the company put together and fine-tune its product and its business plan. We work with entrepreneurs to figure out their staffing needs and marketing plan. We help create a continuum of financing that matches critical milestones of success.
At the end of the day, we know these advisory services improve the entrepreneur's chances of success.
With the investment of GrowOK funds and these advisory services, a company can much more easily reach the point where it can be a viable candidate for lending by its bank.
I've been a banker much of my life, and I know I would much rather tell a customer that even though I can't work with him or her on a loan, I will introduce them to someone who can.
That adds value to the relationship. The entrepreneur appreciates the referral. The banker has given the entrepreneur another reason to return to the bank for the company's operating accounts and future credit needs.
A plugged-in banking community is vital to an innovation economy, no matter who is writing the checks.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state's technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
DID YOU KNOW?
Among affluent U.S. customers, a promoter (a loyal, enthusiastic customer) is worth $9,500 more than a detractor over the tenure of his or her relationship with a bank.