LEHIGH UNIVERSITY INVESTS $250,000 IN LEHIGH VALLEY MICROBUSINESSES
Unique Partnership with The Rising Tide Enables Students to Learn Community Development Lending By Making Loans
Lehigh University officials and students joined representatives of The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund today to announce a unique partnership that will invest $250,000 in Lehigh Valley microenterprises through The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund. Two Lehigh University seniors are learning community development lending, making loans from the university’s investment. The press conference took place at Hammer Training and Fitness Gym in Allentown, the first business approved for a loan made possible by the new fund.
The announcement was made by Todd Watkins, Executive Director of the Baker Institute and director of Lehigh University’s Microfinance Programs, who is also the President of the Board of Directors of The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund. He detailed the opportunity the students had to get practical experience in all aspects of community lending, saying, “The students get complete immersion and hands-on experience in every aspect of community lending – the highs, lows, warts and all. Just as consequentially, more entrepreneurs in our region will have access to capital. Because they are start-ups or have other challenges, traditional sources of loans are not accessible. We give them the chance to pursue their dreams, grow businesses and create jobs.”
Dale Kochard, Assistant Vice President of Community and Regional Affairs at Lehigh University, cited the university’s commitment to investing in the community, especially when it creates an opportunity for the students to apply their education in such a practical way. “Their experience is also a broader community service, as it truly benefits both our community and our students,” he said, adding, “We have an opportunity to extend the impact of the loan fund while providing distinctive experiences that our students will carry into their lives as they create positive change beyond Lehigh.” He went on to explain how it allows them “to meet with business people who are struggling to make their dreams into reality, seeing the choices they need to make and the sacrifices that are sometimes needed to achieve these dreams.”
Kochard was joined by Lehigh University Trustee Emeritus Michael Caruso, who is a personal investor in the fund himself. Caruso who is chairman of National Penn Insurance, is a celebrated Lehigh University athlete and long-time booster of his alma mater, expressed his pride in the university for the creativity the project demonstrates in Lehigh University’s commitment to its community.
Senior Anna Tarassishina, a Global Studies major who will graduate in May, spoke about her experience working for The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund. She said, “I wanted to do something that would mean something to someone rather than theorizing about what could be done in a classroom.” She then explained how the program works and the various roles the students have served, from learning how to read a credit report to valuating collateral. She stated that this is the kind of knowledge that will be useful in their professional lives but that is rarely taught in a classroom. She concluded by saying that she hopes to see this relationship continue to grow and flourish, stressing that every Lehigh student can make a difference.
Hudock commented on the intellect and professionalism of the two students in his class. Senior Sam Henderson, the other student in the special class, was ill and unable to attend the press conference. He introduced Rodney Guignet and Rebecca Pizzolatto, owners of Hammer Training & Fitness Gym. Their loan was booked by Henderson, a Finance and Economics major who took the loan application, analyzed its merits, presented the application package to the Loan Committee of the Board of Directors of The Rising Tide, which approved the $75,000 loan.
Guignet and Pizzolatto concluded the press conference by speaking about their business and how grateful they were for this loan.
The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund is a federally-certified community development financial institution that was created to extend credit to entrepreneurs located in communities where resources and opportunities for growth are limited. Funds can be used for equipment, marketing costs, inventory, working capital and lease-hold improvements. Its terms are flexible. Businesses also have access to extensive technical assistance including one-on-one assistance from The Rising Tide and a multi-week entrepreneurial training program provided by the Community Action Development Corporations of Allentown and Bethlehem. The Rising Tide is a subsidiary of the Community Action Lehigh Valley.
The Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation is Lehigh University’s platform for building new enterprises. It provides students, faculty and alumni with access to the skills, resources and connections needed to enable entrepreneurial ventures to launch and prosper. The network encompasses a worldwide alumni base, regional economic development and incubation resources, and campus-based curricula and programming.