While August is officially National Black Business Month, Florida First Capital/First Capital Finance proudly celebrates the black-owned small businesses who help sustain and diversify our communities all year long.
The road to successful small business ownership requires grit and determination, and is particularly difficult for black entrepreneurs. “The lack of access to capital for black-owned businesses is well documented and has contributed to the widening wealth disparities among black and white families,” said Keith Bowers, Regional Director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida A&M University and Florida First Capital/First Capital Finance Board member.
“A majority of black businesses are funded from personal savings or money borrowed from friends and family. When black businesses do receive funding from conventional sources of capital, in many cases they receive less money than their white counterparts at higher interest rates,” Bowers continued.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 Loan Program offers an alternative to conventional lending with below-market, fixed interest rate loans for up to 25 years. With down payments as low as 10%, a 504 loan preserves precious working capital while providing predictable and level payments for borrowers.
Small businesses not only create jobs and impact local economies, they help shape and define our communities. Meet Erica Lester and Michael A. Smith, two black business owners with extraordinary motivation to succeed and inspire others to do the same.
On Feb. 24, 2009, Erica Lester lost her job as an accountant due to the recession. Later that same day, she took her husband’s advice and a leap of faith to start her own firm.
Erica worked through the night researching how to get started and, by early morning, she had developed a complete business plan. She took a part-time job in the interim to help with cash flow and set a goal to fully transition to her own business within 5 years. On March 12, 2014, Erica became the full-time small business owner of Lester Accounting Service in Panama City, Florida.
Erica knew leasing property didn’t amount to good business and focused on acquiring a commercial building. She viewed 44 properties, becoming increasingly dissatisfied with conventional lending terms.
Erica consulted Keith Bowers with the SBDC at FAMU and learned about the SBA 504 Loan Program. Working with Florida First Capital Business Development Officer, Stacey Green, to secure 90% financing and a below-market fixed interest rate for 20 years, a SBA 504 loan is making it possible for Erica to not only acquire a property, but to construct a building specifically designed for her needs.
With the success of Lester Accounting Service, in 2016 Erica was able to launch a second business – Perennial Grace Financial. In about a year, Erica has plans to again work with Florida First Capital on a second SBA 504 loan to build on property she previously purchased.
For Michael A. Smith, owner and head instructor of the Martial Arts Studio (MAS) in Rockledge, Florida, martial arts is more than a sport – it is an opportunity to teach students self-confidence, self-discipline and respect for themselves and others.
Established in 1998, the mission of MAS is to enhance the lives of at-risk, economically disadvantaged, and special needs children, adolescents and young adults through a combination of martial arts, fitness and healthy lifestyle programs.
As a 6th degree Black Belt in Karate and Tae Kwon Do, Mr. Smith has been immersed in martial arts for more than 35 years as a student, competitor and instructor. He encourages and inspires his students. Brady, a 10-year-old orange belt, has been a student of Mr. Smith’s since 2017. “I like MAS because it’s fun and I’ve learned a lot from Mr. Smith. He tells me to always do my best,” said Brady.
Mr. Smith has represented the United States in some of the most prestigious martial arts competitions in the world, including the North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA), World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) and the International Amateur Karate-Kickboxing Sport Association (IAKSA) tournaments. In 1995, he won the WAKO World Championship and is a 3-time NASKA National Champion.
For 10 years, MAS operated out of a 4,000 square-foot leased facility. As business grew, so did the need for a larger space and the opportunity to strike a blow against ever rising rental rates.
Mr. Smith worked with Florida First Capital Business Development Officer, John Hanrahan, on an SBA 504 loan to secure financing to purchase and renovate a 19,680 square-foot facility. With 90% financing and a below-market fixed interest rate for 20 years, an SBA 504 loan was a perfect match for the expansion project.
To date, MAS has served more than 1,000 families in martial arts instruction. The studio also provides an after school karate and tutoring program and has expanded to include spring and summer camps. For 22 years, Mr. Smith has been inspiring youth and helping build a stronger community.
Visit Lester Accounting Service Solutions at lesteraccounting.com and Perennial Grace Financial at perennialgrace.com.
Visit Michael A. Smith’s Martial Arts Studio at masdojo.com.
For more information about SBA 504 loans in Alabama, Florida or South Georgia, contact a Florida First Capital Loan Officer or email us at info@FloridaFirst.com. Phone: 850.681.3601 or toll-free at 800.504.LOAN.