“We understood that by working together we could help entrepreneurs realize their full potential there,” said Nancy Finn, Director of Local Partnerships at the Intersect Fund. “They are only enterprises left in those neighborhoods. The more support they get, the more people they employ.”

In 2009, the Intersect Fund launched from a Rutgers University dorm room with just $1,000 in seed money and a bold objective: To help individuals in urban areas acquire loans to grow their businesses and improve or establish a credit history.

Maria Gomez, owner of Monchy's Deli on S. Clinton Ave. in East Trenton, works closely with the Intersect Fund to ensure that her store is at the vanguard of her neighborhood's economic revitalization.

Maria Gomez, owner of Monchy’s Deli on S. Clinton Ave. in East Trenton, works closely with the Intersect Fund to ensure that her store is at the vanguard of her neighborhood’s economic renaissance. At right is Nancy Finn, Intersect Fund’s Director of Local Partnerships.

Just five years later, the New Brunswick-based nonprofit microlender and certified community development financial institution has provided nearly $1 million in loans to owners of all types of small enterprises, including restaurants, coffee shops, bodegas, beauty salons, nutrition and fitness centers, and even an ESL school.

With the goal of equipping low-income, minority and women-owned businesses with the skills and capital to successfully develop, generate income and build assets, the Intersect Fund is now working in East Trenton to provide management training, coaching and microloans.

“These businesses are really underrepresented in what people think are the mainstream business communities,” said Nancy Finn, Intersect Fund’s Director of Local Partnerships. “We want to add to the economic development toolbox and be an additional resource for community revitalization.”

The Intersect Fund is working with the East Trenton Collaborative (ETC), a consortium of nonprofit and community development organizations that provide access to additional loan support to local businesses.

In 2013, Finn, working with Tom Clark, executive director of City Works and an ETC member, partnered to address a core goal: elevating the neighborhood’s local economy.

“We understood that by working together we could help entrepreneurs realize their full potential there,” Finn said. “They are only enterprises left in those neighborhoods. The more support they get, the more people they employ.”

The Princeton Area Community Foundation granted the Intersect Fund $25,000 for microenterprise development in East Trenton, giving businesses lending options that had not been readily accessible.

“They don’t have any other place to go for capital outside payday lenders,” Finn said. “They often go to the local loan shark.”

Because many East Trenton entrepreneurs learned the hard way that a loan from a disreputable lender can be personally and professionally damaging, several Intersect Fund loanees receive a credit review and counseling, including Maria D. Gomez, proprietor of Monchy’s Deli on S. Clinton Ave.

“We started from the bottom; we were either getting no advice or bad advice,” Gomez said. “Right now we’re working with Nancy because we need additional support to put into our business and—ideally—be part of East Trenton’s revitalization.”

“We’re the real deal,” Finn said. “But for people to know that and know that we’re on their side, it’s important to establish a real presence here by having face-to-face meetings and building credibility.”

That level of interaction can go far beyond simply providing the tools for a successful business. Finn, citing a 2011 Association for Enterprise Opportunity report, said that if one in three microenterprises hired just one employee, the U.S. economy would reach full employment.

“The banks decline these businesses and they don’t have access to capital from traditional lending institutions,” Finn said. “Our approach is that if people have good credit, they can run better businesses, access traditional capital to mortgages and improve their homes and neighborhoods.”

“The support we get from the Princeton Area Community Foundation is integral in our mission. They support us to be a catalyst in these neighborhoods so we can move the ball forward,” she said.

Resources

The Intersect Fund

The Power of One in Three, The Association for American Opportunity

East Trenton Collaborative