In an increasingly unpredictable world, Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) brings stability to the entrepreneurs and small businesses most likely to fall through the cracks, bolstering the state’s economic vitality one charitable investment at a time.
Rather than support businesses or individuals directly, OCF relies on partnerships with experienced, successful nonprofit organizations and community development financial institutions (CDFI) embedded across diverse regions and sectors.
“We give grants and loans to intermediary organizations who have a mission to serve entrepreneurs who have difficulty accessing capital,” explains Melissa Freeman, Director of Strategic Projects, OCF. “We try to build really strong relationships and partnerships with nonprofits all over the state, so we have a good sense of who is doing what and how well they are serving their communities.”
By strategically partnering with a network of intermediary organizations, OCF helps its donors optimize their impact in Oregon.
Its Thriving Entrepreneurs Grant Program, for example, will provide funding to organizations that support entrepreneurs, especially women, people of color and rural residents who traditionally have limited access to business support and services.
Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon provided loans and training to Maria Roman, a seamstress in Beaverton.
“This is the first time we’ve had an open application process to support entrepreneur-serving organizations. We have a review committee comprised of entrepreneurs and fund managers,” Freeman says. “They help us determine where our funding will be most impactful.”
For more than 10 years, OCF has provided a handful of grants to programs that mentor and train entrepreneurs in both rural and urban communities throughout the state, fueling job creation. However, this year over $500,000 will be awarded through the open application process.
One such grant went to TiE Oregon to retain Laura Kubisiak, a “venture catalyst,” experienced entrepreneur and business coach. She then helped Dr. Reva Barewal — a prosthodontist who treats patients with difficulty chewing and swallowing — launch her healthy lines of therapeutic foods: Taste for Life, LLC and Savorease™. This ripple effect illustrates how supporting nonprofits like TiE Oregon boosts OCF’s reach and effectiveness.
While OCF maintains a number of established, long-term funds, it also acts in response to current events. In March 2020, it launched the Oregon Small Business Stabilization Fund to deliver relief to small business owners whose livelihood was significantly diminished overnight by the COVID-19 economic shutdown.
OCF seeded the Oregon Small Business Stabilization Fund with a $300,000 investment that grew, thanks to donor support, to $2.6 million, which was rapidly deployed across the state by mid-July 2020.
Margin Coffee in Albany
Community Lending Works used the $310,000 grant it received from the fund to provide emergency grants and loans to 1,200 small businesses, like Homegrown Public House & Brewery in Florence, OR.
“We recognize that small businesses create over 95 percent of new jobs in Oregon. Sometimes there aren’t large employers out in rural areas, so people need to be creative and find ways to earn a living,” Freeman adds. “We strive to fund organizations that help people have the tools and skills to start and run a successful business.”
Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO) — a CDFI focused on underserved entrepreneurs, particularly women, people of color, Veterans and low-income populations — received $370,000 from the Oregon Small Business Stabilization Fund. The capital enabled MESO to provide immediate relief to at-risk entrepreneurs and small businesses, including Gloria Sanchez, owner of Gloria’s Beaverton Salon. Sanchez, already involved in MESO’s business development and strategic consulting programs, used the capital to cover expenses accrued during the shutdown.
Gloria Sanchez in her Beaverton salon
“We’re investing in organizations that are reaching marginalized communities,” Freeman notes.
MESO also received investment from the OCF’s $20-million Oregon Impact Fund, which provides loans to nonprofit and for-profit social ventures. With this support, MESO offers nontraditional loans to people like Julie Derrick, a single mom who sought out MESO’s services when trying to start her own shoe repair business. Through the CDFI’s loans and trainings, she successfully opened and expanded JD’s Shoe Repair.
Julie Derrick of JD Shoes
“We launched the Oregon Impact Fund, a loan program, in 2018. We raised $10 million from donors, and we matched it with the endowment. The fund allows us to provide loans to CDFIs and other entities,” Freeman explains. “We’re engaging donors and trying to impact the economy at a larger scale. These loans are a different, but complementary tool to a grant. The loans are $500,000 to $2 million per organization for seven to 10 years. It’s a great way for donors to make a significant impact.
While many would associate OCF with grantmaking, fewer are aware that the foundation allocates up to 1% of its endowment to Oregon-based venture capital funds — a unique way for OCF to spur innovation, business development and job creation in Oregon.
“Oregon Community Foundation has offices in Bend, Eugene, Medford, Portland and Salem,” she adds. “We have Philanthropic Advisors and Program Officers with deep relationships in all pockets of the state. OCF offers expertise and resources to help donors make great decisions about where to invest their charitable funds.”
The Thriving Entrepreneurs Grant Program, Oregon Impact Fund and Oregon Small Business Stabilization Fund are just the tip of its philanthropic iceberg. From the Oregon Community Recovery Fund, a $15.2 million Covid response fund, to the Community Rebuilding Fund that addresses communities impacted by the 2020 wildfires, OCF puts donated dollars to work and maximizes impact for the benefit of Oregonians most in need.
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