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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, October 22, 2012, 6:00 am

Marin business center expands with commercial kitchen, in-house lender

Incubation and education programs grow in San Rafael

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    SAN RAFAEL — The Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in San Rafael (www.rencenter.org, (415) 755-1115) has expanded its programs since officially opening its doors in late June, welcoming an in-house small business microlender to its facility and unveiling a commercial kitchen to support a swell of North Bay entrepreneurs in the food and beverage sector.

    The new commercial kitchen at the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in San Rafael (photo credit: Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center)

    The development is part of a gradual rollout for the San Francisco-based nonprofit’s North Bay location. The facility, donated by the Marin Community Foundation, offers co-working space, consulting and incubation space for startups and existing small businesses in the North Bay. It is the fourth such site for the organization, which also operates a number of smaller offices around the Bay Area.

    “We’ve spent the past few months working out the kinks. We’re kink free now,” said Sharon Miller, CEO of the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center.

    Working Solutions, a San Francisco-based small business lender, opened an office at the center September. It is the second office for the nonprofit lender, which has already provided financing to a number of clients in the North Bay.

    By setting up shop within the small business and startup-focused facility, Working Solutions would be in frequent contact with its client base: startups and small businesses with good cash flow that were denied financing through a traditional bank loan.

    “There really is a void of microfinancing in Marin,” said Laurie O’Hara, business development officer for the San Rafael office. At a challenging time for many entrepreneurs, “It’s the difference between having a dream and actually realizing that dream.”

    The lender provides financing for a variety of business uses, ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 for existing companies and with a $25,000 cap for startups. Entrepreneurs must prove experience working in the same industry and be up-to-date on all outstanding debt.

    Loans require a 10 percent equity injection — 20 percent for startups — and a personal guarantee from the borrower. Terms are amortized up to five years, with an interest rate between 4 and 10 percent.

    In addition to providing financing, Working Solutions also requires borrowers to participate in ongoing advising and coaching during the course of the loan. The approach has helped contribute to a nearly 98 percent repayment rate for loans, with $2.7 million in loans made since 2005. The organization launched in 1998.

    In cases when applicants fall short of underwriting requirements, Ms. O’Hara said that the integration with the Entrepreneurship Center will allow easy referral for assistance in business plan development and other requirements.

    “The synergy really does go both ways,” she said.

    While based at the Entrepreneurship Center, Working Solutions has also begun reaching out to clients of the Venture Greenhouse, another San Rafael business incubator operated under the umbrella of Dominican University of California.

    “There are a lot of entrepreneurs here in Marin,” Ms. O’Hara said.

    Startup restaurants and food production companies — a growing realm for entrepreneurs in the region — will be able to operate their business out of the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center’s commercial kitchen during the early phase of their company, Ms. Miller said. Incubator clients can stay for up to three years, and the kitchen has an outdoor area that can be configured for pop-up restaurant-type events.

    “You’re not just coming there to cook. You’re coming there to grow your business,” she said.

    The center is currently in an outreach phase for potential incubator clients, after recently welcoming mobile game developer So Much Drama Studios to the program. The center will also offer a course centered on nonprofit startups early next year, a first for the organization.

    “The Marin community has a large percentage of self-employed people,” said Ms. Miler. “These are people who always thought about starting a business. Why not now?”

     

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