The Black Cooperative Investment Fund Is Providing Microloans to Black Businesses In Southern California

Black businesses across the U.S. are thriving post-pandemic, but many are still struggling to get access to capital. Here is how the Black Cooperative Investment Fund (BCIF) is helping.

The BCIF is a nonprofit organization providing direct access to capital for Black businesses in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Founded in 2016 and launched in 2017, the BCIF seeks to create social change for the Black community by building assets and wealth.

The BCIF is led by President and Board Chair Robert Lewis who has almost 25 years of professional experience working in philanthropy and the nonprofit, human, and social services sector. Robert has been responsible for grant-making for companies such as the L.A. Care Health Plan and the California Community Foundation (CCF).

“I was working at one of the largest grant-making foundations in the country at the time, based out here in LA, and we were talking about the many ways in which Black-led nonprofits are often marginalized from philanthropy, meaning they can’t get grants the same way that mainstream nonprofits do,” Lewis told BLACK ENTERPRISE.

“So we started having conversations about what a Black-led nonprofit in California would look like and, from those conversations, economic mobility and economic power continued to come up as a theme. From that, the focus on microloans to support black businesses, that essentially rose to the top of something that we wanted to focus on.”

The BCIF provides zero-interest microloans with a 25% forgivable option. The microloans are funded through pooled dollars from individuals and organizations who are passionate about economic empowerment for the Black community.

All repayments are placed back into the fund to sustain the pool of resources for the Black community. An annual fundraising goal of $500,000 will allow the fund to distribute 24 to 36 microloans annually, ranging between $5,000 and $20,000.

The long-term goal of the BCIF is to provide a dedicated, reliable, and perpetual source of capital to create assets and build wealth for, and within, the Black community, while also serving as a catalytic force for building a critical mass movement of change based on economic imperatives.

The BCIF will even help businesses with the application, educate small Black business owners on financial resources, and offer technical advice to help grow their businesses. 

“We have partnerships that we leverage with a couple local CDFIs where we are able to provide our applicants with no-cost business coaching, technical assistance and business advisory services,” Lewis told BLACK ENTERPRISE.

The BCIF has provided microloans to Chino Beauty, Ride On Bike!, Aqua Equity, and Hygiene First. Applicants will submit a preliminary loan application online. If an application meets the basic criteria and there is interest in further exploration, the BCIF will send an invitation to complete a more comprehensive loan application packet.

“In terms of the types of Black businesses, it pretty much covers a wide array of business types,” Lewis said.

“There are a handful of businesses that we don’t fund and I think they’re the ones most folks generally think of as not having the most positive effect on our community [like] liquor stores, gambling institutions, [and] companies that profit in the adult entertainment industry.”

“Outside of that, pretty much any business is eligible,” Lewis continued.

“We typically look at businesses [that] gross more than half a million a year in annual revenues and that’s pretty much been all of our applicants up to date.”

The BCIF’s long-term plans include expanding outside of Southern California, but for now, the nonprofit is focused on creating a dedicated, reliable, and perpetual source of capital to create assets and build wealth for the Black community.

“We want to be what we call a catalytic force for building a consciousness, a mass movement around change based on economic importance. And what I mean by that is, oftentimes in our community when you’ve sought change based on moral or ethical imperatives, I call it pulling on heartstrings to get them to kind of do right by us, and we think change happens more swiftly when there are fiscal imperatives tied to it.”