Banking & Finance, Economic Development, and Small Business & Startups

Texas lender eyes Grand Rapids

Financial services firm’s forte is large, low-interest loans to small business.

July 1, 2016
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Big money in Austin, Texas, is turning its eyes toward the Grand Rapids small business scene.

Austin-based Able Lending recently announced it was committing to lend $5 million to about 20 small businesses in Michigan.

The money marks Able’s launch in Michigan. Evan Baehr, Able cofounder and president, recently toured three Michigan cities to meet with small businesses and officials. Baehr visited Flint, Owosso and Grand Rapids, where he stopped for a lunch-and-learn fundraiser June 22 at Start Garden, 40 Pearl St. NW, downtown.

“Able is excited to formally launch in the great state of Michigan,” Baehr said. “Groups like the Flint office of The Michigan Small Business Development Center and Start Garden in Grand Rapids provide the perfect breeding ground for new and existing entrepreneurs. Able is proud to come alongside the Michigan entrepreneur ecosystem to help fund more deserving businesses.”

On his visit to Beer City USA, Baehr dropped in at Founders Brewing Co.

“The Mosaic (Promise) was fantastic,” he said. “The glass was sweating. I was sweating. It was good.”

Able is a lending platform that lends up to $1 million to businesses at any stage, and its mission is to grow the “fortune five million” small businesses in the nation through collaborative, low-interest loans, Baehr said.

“We’re a financial services company, and our main product is large low-interest loans. We write checks up to $1 million starting in mid-digit interest rates, and we write them to U.S.-based small businesses that are growing and need expansion capital,” he said.

The company formed in Austin in fall 2013.

“Our first $10 million of loans was in Austin,” Baehr said. “We were lending in our backyard as a way to control our experiment. We were never building it as a regional company. We then branched out throughout the state of Texas. Now we’re lending in over 40 states.”

The Michigan lending reflects a major rollout for Able. The firm looks for markets that have strong ecosystems, with “lots of big business and small businesses getting started,” but that are still underserved by capital markets, Baehr said.

That’s what Able found in Michigan, he said, adding that the combo of a great business ecosystem and a lack of capital makes Michigan ripe for a firm like his.

After chatting with Start Garden creator Rick DeVos, Baehr came away feeling like Grand Rapids is in many ways a sister city to Austin.

“I think Austin’s in a similar boat. You have some outlier situations of companies that randomly exist in Grand Rapids, like in Austin, and they were able to raise some capital and (reach) escape velocity — but in spite of being Grand Rapids. It just happened to be there and it happened to work, but it wasn’t drawing on resources locally,” he said.

Able’s average loan is a little below $250,000, Baehr said. In Michigan, the money will be spread among about 20 companies.

“No choices have been made yet, although a number are in conversations with our loan advisors. We’re working on filling (the) queue right now,” he said.

“We probably met 40 Michigan companies this week, and are hopefully meeting more.”

As Able spreads throughout the nation, Baehr said investing in Michigan was a must. Grand Rapids in particular is a city ready for growth, he said.

“In conversations in Kansas City, New York and California, people are talking about Michigan more, and I think you guys are doing a great job of telling the story of Grand Rapids, in particular,” he said.

“In your own backyard, there’s people with … money and deployable assets. Part of it is committing people in town to be part of that asset class. Work on the people in your own backyard who are committed to investing in the city but need to be educated on how because they’ve never done it before.”

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