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Event Highlights How Community Banks Help with Small Business Funding

By Colin McEvoy on March 4, 2022

Dinoli Rowlands, Regional Business Banking Relationship Manager with PNC Bank, was one of the speakers at the LaunchBox Ladies virtual event.

Lehigh Valley LaunchBox and Penn State Lehigh Valley hosted a virtual discussion with Lehigh Valley bank representatives to discuss information, incentives, resources, and advice that could help entrepreneurs support their business needs.

“There are so many resources here in the Lehigh Valley,” said Dinoli Rowlands, Regional Business Banking Relationship Manager with PNC Bank. “We’re so lucky to be in a place with such a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit; a place that supports entrepreneurs so well.”

The event, entitled “Community Banks Small Business Funding Opportunity,” was hosted online via Zoom on March 3 as part of the LaunchBox Ladies series, which seeks to help female entrepreneurs realize success in their ventures throughout Lehigh Valley and beyond.

Participating speakers included Rowlands; Alex Richardson, Commercial Banker at American Bank; and June Webre, Regional Banking Initiatives Officer at ESSA Bank. The discussion was moderated by Viacmely Jimenez of Penn State Lehigh Valley.

“Community banks provide about 60% of all small business loans, so we really can’t overstate the importance of community banks to entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Tina Richardson, Chancellor of Penn State Lehigh Valley.

Alex Richardson, Commercial Banker at American Bank, speaking at the LaunchBox Ladies event.

Specific types of financing and funding available depends on the specific needs of each entrepreneur or small business, the speakers said. The most important thing is to establish a relationship with your banker so they can work to accommodate those needs.

“You should never feel like you’re too small to talk to a bank; no no one is too small to talk to a bank,” Richardson. “Most banks now, large or small, are going to have a dedicated team that will work with entrepreneurs and small business owners because that’s an important segment of the banking industry.”

The speakers also discuss various loan application processes, which also vary depending on the business and the bank they are working with. Rowlands said an applicant  typically needs to be in business for 2 to 3 years, provide personal and business tax returns, and may be asked for such documents as a business plan or P&L statement.

She suggested entrepreneurs do a credit check each year and resolve any deliquienies or problems identified, because having good credit could make a considerable difference in how much interest you may have to pay over the life of a loan.

Webre said entrepreneurs should conduct thorough research about financial, technology, and community resources available to them, how their prospective business would fit into the regional business community, and whether their business plan would hold up if sales came in lower or if expenses came in higher than projected.

“Knowledge is power, and you should plan for changes, because the best laid plans can always be derailed,” Webre said. “… Everything starts with an idea, and entrepreneurs are really the heart of America, so community and all-sized banks really enjoy working with the small business community to listen to their ideas, watch them grow, and help them along the way.”

Webre suggested entrepreneurs also join regional organizations like Chambers of Commerce, and participate in networking events to establish contacts and get to know people. She noted the Lehigh Valley in particular has a large number of such organizations and events.

“I’ve seen multiple businesses really thrive because they are connecting with other businesses and saying, ‘I can do this if you can do this,’” Webre said. “As the saying goes, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ That collaboration is a key component.”

Lehigh Valley LaunchBox connects aspiring entrepreneurs with microgrants, co-working space at Velocity in downtown Allentown, legal and intellectual property services, business advice and mentorship.

Since it was formed in 2015, Lehigh Valley LaunchBox has helped more than 50 startup companies graduate from its program since its inception in 2015, and has distributed more than $128,000 in microgrants to a diverse array of entrepreneurs, Richardson said.

George Lewis, Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Research for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), serves on the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox Advisory Board. Additionally, Richardson is a member of the LVEDC Board of Directors.

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