‘The Avengers of Lending’ Speed Capital to Black and Latino Businesses

Tamika Quillard’s graphic design business attracted clients like BET and AARP (the American Association of Retired Persons), which turned to her for ad campaigns. Her bold colorful art could be seen wrapped around L.A. Metro’s trains. That was before Covid. When the pandemic hit, clients canceled commissions and her business began to wither. In a one-two punch, financial programs purportedly designed to assist successful small business owners like Quillard rejected her applications for help.

One bank, for example, paradoxically required the mother of two to show that she previously had an income of $100,000 or more, before it would provide her with a grant. Similarly exasperating restrictions disqualified her from other government-run programs.

Graphic artist Tamika Quillard, a Lendistry grant recipient, in front of some of her work.

Desperation, she says, led her to Lendistry. The Black-run, community development financial institution, or CDFI, provides grants and loans to businesses like hers, located in underserved communities. 

The fact that Lendistry is run by a Black CEO and executives of color, she thinks, is key to understanding why the mother of two eventually secured relief to help her sustain her business through the difficult, early days of the pandemic. 

Quillard is right. Lendistry’s founder and CEO, Everett K. Sands, combines deep experience in banking with a passion to help minority entrepreneurs that springs from both his personal and professional backgrounds.  

“It is really our mission at Lendistry to provide access to capital” for borrowers, especially Black- and minority-owned businesses, says Sands, a former executive from Wells Fargo. Sands launched Lendistry after realizing the nationwide drop in community banking following the 2008 Great Recession left a yawning gap that needed to be filled. This was especially so in the case of historically underserved neighborhoods which, already cut off from many banking services, were left even worse off after the economic turndown. 

Instead of opening a bank, however, Sands decided he could make a bigger contribution with a CDFI, which does not serve bank account depositors. That freed him to focus exclusively on his goal of providing people with access to capital in numerous forms. 

“They are the Avengers of Lending,” Destination Crenshaw’s President and COO Jason Foster says of Sands and his team at Lendistry, which is one of the main financial backers of DC. “They are righting historical wrongs by funneling capital to people who have been denied vital support by systemic racism.”

Since it was founded in 2015, Lendistry has provided $8.7 billion in loans and grants to 586,000 small businesses nationwide. Most of these loans range from $10,000 to $100,000 in size. But Lendistry can extend loans up to $5 million under the Small Business Administration’s 7(a) loan program. And Lendistry can provide or access other kinds of financing to support sole proprietors like Quillard.

Lendistry grant recipient Tamika Quillard with her two children.

From the moment Sands learned about Destination Crenshaw, which itself provides economic support to local businesses through its DC Thrive program, he knew Lendistry would get involved. 

“We are in L.A. We are in this space. This is our backyard,” Sands remembers thinking, “We have to be a part of this.”

Lendistry, which is also a fintech or financial technology firm, is one of four organizations that together provided more than $30 million in New Markets Tax Credits to Destination Crenshaw. That injection produced more than $6 million to support DC’s general operations and fund the construction of DC’s anchor attraction, Sankofa Park. DC eventually will comprise several community spaces, new trees and works by more than 100 Black artists along a 1.3 mile stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard. It is the largest reparative project of its kind aimed at uplifting and preserving a historically Black neighborhood.

“For our project to succeed, we have to be an economic asset to this community,” Foster says.  “It’s a key part of Destination Crenshaw’s commitment to enhancing not just the artistic and cultural future, but the economic future, of the Crenshaw community. They’re vital to what we do.”

At the national level, Lendistry’s impact is expanding to help as many entrepreneurs as it can. As a fintech, it deploys proprietary algorithms to partner with Amazon in a community lending pilot program that provides loans designed to help minority entrepreneurs, along with qualified borrowers of any background, grow their businesses. Lendistry is also the sole entity authorized to provide microgrants to eligible business owners of up to $10,000 through the California Dream Fund. It also provides grants to arts organizations and administered Payroll Protection Program fund allocation through the SBA.

A key component of Lendistry’s collaboration with DC is its role as one of only 14 non-bank lenders nationwide who provide SBA loans.

“We are the only African American-led organization that has that SBA designation,” Sands points out.  

Sands’ grand ambition, however, is not to merely support individual minority-owned businesses. It is to ensure community stability and permanence  One way Lendistry can help businesses remain in the neighborhood is by enabling them to buy the properties where they are located. To finance purchases of this sort, many other lenders require the property to be 51% occupied by the borrowers. But, Lendistry can get it done at 33%, Sands says.“Now we get to save the business,” he says. “It gets to ride the wave of increase in property values, retain its employees, possibly hire more. There’s a circle of financial wealth that will continue. And so those are the things that will really be transformational to keep the capital inside the community.”

Lendistry founder and CEO Everett K. Sands, right, with new Vice President of Capital Markets Nicole Boone, formerly of JPMorgan Chase.

Sands is motivated by personal experience.

He grew up ringing the cash register for his family-run business in Washington D.C. In 1939, Sands’ grandfather J. C. Lofton founded a tailoring company that also trained apprentices in the trade. That business, J. C. Lofton Tailors, which lays claim to being the first such Black-run educational venture in the country, is still run by Sands’ cousins.

“He had a thriving business,” Sands says of his grandfather, who once provided hats for U.S. Army soldiers during the Korean War. “But he had financial troubles. He did not buy his properties.” Bad financial advice, he says, led his grandfather to lose a good portion of the business and forced him to move to a new location. Sands is determined to help other  Black entrepreneurs achieve what his grandfather could not.

This mission has attracted top talent to Lendistry. That includes Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, the new president of the firm’s affiliated nonprofit, The Center by Lendistry, which provides consulting and technical advice to business owners. Earlier this year, Nicole Boone, a former executive with JPMorgan Chase who worked in new markets tax credits for the bank, made the jump to Lendistry as its vice president of capital markets.

She left JP Morgan, where she mostly worked on large commercial transactions, to dive into small business lending “as the lifeblood and the heartbeat of communities.”

“This is a special opportunity to be part of a company that is on the precipice of doing really historic and great things for capital access to historically underrepresented people,” Boone says, “and I’m really excited to be part of that historic change.”

That includes the change unfolding in the Crenshaw area with Destination Crenshaw.

Sands anticipates that Lendistry’s commitment to DC will inspire other funders and ventures to follow suit and invest in the neighborhood’s local businesses

“At the heart of it,” Sands says, “we hope that it brings a tremendous amount of exposure to the area to revive, help and stabilize the community.”

 — By Ann Marsh