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Working Solutions celebrates 20 years

Working Solutions celebrates 20 years

Appears in the Oakland Business Review Small Business Spotlight, graciously sponsored by Bank of Marin. 

Celebrating its 20th year, Working Solutions is the First to Believe in start-up and early-stage businesses by providing diverse entrepreneurs with affordable capital, customized business consulting, and community connections to increase economic opportunity in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Founded in 1999 as a workforce development program by Emily Gasner, under the auspices of Oakland-based TMC Financing, Working Solutions started its own microlending program in 2005, and in 2009 was certified as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Since then, Working Solutions has made $22 million in microloans and grants to small businesses throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, which have created or retained over 4,000 local jobs. Working Solutions has educated over 20,000 entrepreneurs interested in starting or growing a small business, and has connected clients to an additional $23 million in conventional and equity financing. The organization focuses on serving entrepreneurs who often face barriers to access capital, especially women, entrepreneurs of color, and lowerincome individuals.

Working Solutions’ approach to its mission is to focus on start-up and earlystage financing by funding entrepreneurs with capital, consisting of loans ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, and to serve as a trusted resource by providing up to 5 years of one-on-one business consulting to every funded entrepreneur— with a focus on financial and business management skill-building. Working Solutions holds workshops on specialized business topics such as accounting and legal topics, and provides access to partner organizations' programs, as well as frequent opportunities to connect with other local small business owners, such as its recent presentation in April for the Oakland Chamber of Commerce #OAKPROUD Small Business Power Hour.

In 2005, a $500,000 loan from Wells Fargo seeded Working Solutions’ microlending work, and they have since partnered together on several strategicinitiatives. Working Solutions continues to build its portfolio with many local and national bank partners, and recently announced a $1 million lending capital investment from Bank of the West, subsidiary of BNP Paribas, as part of the bank’s pilot WE Source program for women entrepreneurs.

Working Solutions’ newly created five-year strategic plan calls for the organization to invest $50 million in microloans by 2024. The plan sets the stage for deepening the organization’s work and impact as a start-up and earlystage lender focused on communities of color, women, and low- and moderateincome individuals.

The organization is led by Sara Razavi, who was named Working Solutions CEO in May 2018, having served as Interim CEO since November 2017. Razavi joined the organization as its COO in 2013 and has overseen the organization’s average annual 30% yearover-year lending growth since then. Razavi has an MBA from University of San Francisco, with a focus on social enterprise, and nearly 20 years of experience in the social sector. Since its founding twenty years ago, Working Solutions has grown to $13 million in total assets, with plans to serve many more Bay Area entrepreneurs, growing to $30 million by 2024. Working Solutions provides its services and products at an intentionally below market rate, so those who have been marginalized may begin or grow their businesses, yet it still earns 40% of its revenue from earned income—relying on community support for the remaining 60%.

With the community’s support, Working Solutions creates economic opportunity, builds financial self-sufficiency through entrepreneurship, and promotes microenterprise growth to strengthen the local economy, create jobs, and build resilient communities. The organization plays a vital, critical role in the local funding ecosystem in Oakland, and throughout the Bay region. ◼