Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) is a small team of dedicated people with a bold mission: to increase the access to capital for small businesses based in America’s inner cities. As an inner city entrepreneur looking to expand my business, I was extremely interested in hearing what they had to say. Honestly, I had never heard of ICCC until I was nominated by a local leader. The Philadelphia event was hosted by Temple University in Morgan Hall on May 22nd.
Before I get into my takeaways from the event, there are a few relevant caveats. First, I’m not the ideal participant in this program. My business is still in the startup stage so a lot of what I learned I won’t be able to implement for a few years. Secondly, My business is in a creative field. Obviously every business has different capital considerations, and I’m sure some will benefit from this program more than others. Having said that, I think this program would be beneficial for business owners looking for the funds to grow their business or those trying to better understand finance and strategy.
Take away #1: It’s never too early to start talking to bankers about your financing needs
Here’s how I thought banks worked: You bring in your paperwork and request financing. The banker reviews your paperwork to see if you qualify and If everything looks good, they give you the money. If it doesn’t, they don’t. As it turns out, it is rarely like that. Bankers work more as your advocate than your judge. It’s their job to understand your business, recommend financing options, and follow up with you if you start to miss payments. As you can probably imagine, that banker doesn’t want to hound you for payments so they would prefer to make sure you can actually use financing they will help you get approved for. After you speak with a banker, it’s their job to deliver your information, and articulate your needs, to the risk people within their organization for approval. If the banker can’t build the case for your business then you wont get approved. That’s why the banker wants to make sure they understand your business as much as possible. It’s also why it can be so helpful to engage a banker before you need funding. It will give the banker time to understand your needs and help you package the right financials to actually get the loan. Also, they can also give you advice on how to tackle taxes and accounting in a method their bank prefers.
Takeaway #2: Structure is the difference between a successful and floundering businesses
As an entrepreneur, it can be easy to focus entirely on your ideas or relationships, but growth requires structure. For your business to grow, your team needs to be able to make great, mission driven choices when you’re not around. People naturally prioritize different things; therefore some members of your community will understand your goals very differently than others. That’s why business structure is so important. Having strong business structures in place ensures that all team members make the decisions that bring your business closer to success despite differences you may have in background, education, job title, and culture. ICCC provided us with some of the finest business strategy trainers in the country to give everyone a top down perspective of how to best shape their organization. Professor Gail Taylor kicked things off by breaking down marketing strategy in a way that was impactful and easy to understand. Professor Susan Perkins followed that up with an expert analysis on competitive advantage and business position. Later in the afternoon Dr. Steve Bookbinder broke down the fundamentals of leadership and creating a workforce that can drive your company to sustain growth. Having the opportunity to learn from these experts and discuss their ideas with the other entrepreneurs made the event a unique and powerful experience.
Takeaway #3: Accounting and Finances aren’t as hard as you think they are. Lean in and take control
While we had some great lectures during the day long kickoff event, Professor Steven Rogers’ presentation on preparing for growth capital was especially impactful. Along with his unique and engaging style of presenting, his presentation was memorable because he completely demystified highly complex financial topics in a short period of time. I, like many other entrepreneurs, don’t have a financial background. I find understanding interest frightening and often lean on the support of outside advisors. Professor Rogers’ presentation gave me the confidence to understand and calculate all sorts of interest so I can make the best financial decisions for my business.
In conclusion, if you are nominated by someone to attend ICCC don’t hesitate. This event gives you the ability to connect with financial professionals, ask candid questions, learn about business strategy and finance from the best minds in their fields, and network with local entrepreneurs. I think it’s a great opportunity for any business owner who is committed to making the choices it takes to grow a small local company into a regional or national business leader.