Gigi Giles can claim the title of proud owner of a “quintessential barber shop.” Ebony Barber Shop is the local hot spot, with “people just hanging around, kids playing, people talking.” It’s the place to be. But this scene is a far cry from the tattered shop Giles inherited from her father. She needed some help to revamp her business, and she got it.
Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development, or LEND, is a non-profit, entirely student-run organization that “connects Evanston and Northwestern by providing resources to Evanston businesses and entrepreneurs.” Ani Ajith, the Director of Outreach, is among the seventeen or so members of the group. The group’s aim is “to leverage Northwestern resources to empower Evanston entrepreneurs to take their businesses to the next level, to improve their business as it stands, or even start up a business,” Ajith explains. The organization practices an individual lending model, meaning they do not take collateral and lend to clients “on faith and trust.” The loans range from 500 to 5,000 dollars.
To accomplish this partnership, LEND divides their power into a business training/ advising sector and a microlending sector. Every business helped is assigned two to three LEND staffers. Ajith emphasized that developing a friendship is the first and most crucial step between business and staffer. “We kind of work together. It’s not the typical model of consulting, where we come in, look at your business model and tell you what to do. We come in and ask the clients which areas they want to focus on, and then we explore the area with them, set our goals,” Ajith said. As for their repayment rate, it’s near 100 percent. This is why the developed friendships are so crucial to the partnershipbusiness owners will feel much more inclined to pay back the loans to people they trust. LEND gives out about three to five loans per year, but Ajith stressed that there is no quota they have to fill.
“We don’t want to give out loans to people who don’t want them or don’t need them. We also don’t want to be another burden on entrepreneurs,” he said. LEND is very careful in choosing the businesses they help, because they don’t want to just be throwing money out there to people that don’t truly need it.
The organization is always ready to jump to action, with the ability to deploy within a week to help a business. This swiftness has structured a strong relationship between the city of Evanston and LEND.
“We want to not only empower entrepreneurs, but uplift communities. Because we realize that through empowering entrepreneurs we can often enrich a community by revitalizing critical parts of it,” Ajith said. Helped by LEND, the antique jewelry shop, CJ Sparkle was moved into its first storefront and is thriving. Malik Turley was able to expand her studio, Hip Circle Studio, to the next store-front with the help of LEND.
Randy Nelson, a handyman, was able to buy a van and become mobile. This completely skyrocketed his business, simply because he was given the ability to become mobile. These people have changed the lives of LEND members as much as they’ve changed their businesses.
“You get to work with these clients who are the most amazing people. They’re funny, they’re wise, they’re experienced. Their humility, their experience, their passion, really inspires us and teaches us a whole lot more than we’re teaching them,” said Ajith.