Friends & Family Fund

 

Berkshire Bank is proud to partner with The Runway Project to create the Friends & Family Fund Certificate of Deposit (CD) aimed at helping entrepreneurs of color access the seed capital they need in order to launch the businesses of their dreams.

Together, we are doing our part to help close the racial wealth gap by investing in communities of color.

About The Runway Project The Runway Project is a national initiative solving the ‘Friends & Family’ seed funding gap for entrepreneurs of color by providing early stage funding options and holistic business support as a wealth-building strategy. Pew Research Center has found that whites in the US have access to $142k and that African Americans have access to merely $11k from this common funding path. According to the census bureau, 30k is the capital starting point to get a startup off the ground, which leaves African American startups at a significant disadvantage. Jessica Norwood, an entrepreneur, activist, and advocate for equity, has seen what this looks like first hand. Whether it’s disenfranchised farmers in rural Alabama or discouraged youth in West Baltimore, she knows how a difference of $131k can have far reaching implications past just startup capital. She saw the advantage of using this concrete problem as a medium in which to address the larger issue of African American wealth creation. 
 
  • On average, Friends & Family invest $60 billion a year into early-stage businesses. The average amount of capital required to start a business is $30,000.
  • African Americans are starting businesses at a rate that outpaces the majority. In the U.S., black women in particular, are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs.
  • Yet, there are still significant barriers to accessing seed capital in addition to a staggering racial wealth gap. (African American median household wealth is $11,000 compared to $141,900 of White American median household wealth).

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the ‘Friends & Family’ Loan Fund?
Berkshire’s Friends & Family Fund is a new loan fund designed to help entrepreneurs of color access the seed capital they need in order to launch the businesses of their dreams and spur economic growth in underserved communities. The fund’s key feature is our new Certificate of Deposit(CD) that allows depositors to enjoy a market-based rate of return on their investment while also while providing liquidity for the loans. The fund is one of the first offerings under Berkshire’s new Be First initiative, the bank’s social impact strategy.

What are the ‘Friends & Family’ loan eligibility requirements and terms?
Our loan terms are designed to mirror and replicate true “friends and family” funding, which is often extended as an affordable and flexible funding tied to the success of the business with no credit review and no collateral consideration. Early stage funding is essentially “we believe in you” money, and Berkshire’s ‘Friends & Family’ loan duplicates this by offering low-interest loans with high-touch support to entrepreneurs of color.
 
How can I apply for a loan for my small minority-owned business?  
If you are an entrepreneur of color interested in learning more about the ‘Friends & Family’ loan program, contact Sherina McKinley of the Runway Project at sherina@therunwayproject.org (Do not use email to send The Runway Project confidential or sensitive information such as passwords, account numbers or social security numbers).
 
Why is Berkshire creating a Fund to support entrepreneurs of color?
There is no shortage of great business ideas within communities of color, but what they have historically lacked is the access to capital to launch their businesses. For example, the most common funding path for burgeoning business owners begins with asks of support from family and friends but a clear racial wealth gap exists that limits Black entrepreneurs in particular from accessing significant funding—white households in the United States have a median household wealth of $142K while Black households have a mere $11K in wealth. The racial wealth gap is structural and pervasive, and the lack of access to capital is a key barrier to entrepreneurship and economic growth in communities of color. Berkshire is proud to launch a fund aimed at helping to close this racial wealth gap.
 
Who is The Runway Project and how do they “power” the Fund?
The Runway Project is a national initiative founded by Jessica Norwood that is solving the ‘Friends & Family’ seed funding gap for entrepreneurs of color by providing early stage funding options and holistic business to promising minority-owned businesses. Their innovative model was launched in Oakland in 2017 and Berkshire Bank is proud to partner with them to administer the ‘Friends & Family’ fund. The Runway Project leads the design and implementation of Berkshire Bank's ‘Friends & Family’ CD and loan program. This includes convening and managing the community-based underwriting process and training and providing ongoing support to the entrepreneurs who receive loans from the fund. Learn more about The Runway Project here.

How does the Fund work?
  • The fund is fueled by a specialty CD that provides a safe, FDIC depositors’ insured market-rate return on investment, while providing liquidity for the loans.
  • Loan applications will be reviewed through a relationship-based underwriting process designed to eliminate historical barriers like an over reliance on credit scores, personal collateral, or historical tax and financial reporting as an indicator of future success.
  • Trusted advisors provide holistic business support and ongoing financial coaching to entrepreneurs as they build their companies.
What is relationship-based loan underwriting?
The racial wealth gap creates a stark disparity in seed funding available for entrepreneurs of color, and traditional underwriting processes often perpetuate the lack of funding because they rely on approval criteria that falsely assumes these businesses have access to the same resources as their peers. It also eliminates historical barriers like an over reliance on credit scores, personal collateral, or historical tax and financial reporting as an indicator of future success that often block entrepreneurs of color from accessing loans and traditional banking services, and takes into account a holistic assessment of potential borrowers including their business plans and market potential. Additionally, the loan program includes ongoing business support to provide entrepreneurs with training and business advice to help ensure their success, and fosters community networks that provide additional supportive relationships.

Who should invest in the ‘Friends & Family’ CD?
Everyone! When you deposit your money in Berkshire Bank's ‘Friends & Family’ CD your dollars will work for you and the community. You can be proud knowing that your deposit provides a double-bottom line return on investment. By participating in this CD you’re helping to seed POC-owned businesses that otherwise would not have access to critical start-up capital.
 
How can I open a ‘Friends & Family’ CD?
If you are interested in connecting with Berkshire Bank to learn more about opening a CD, please contact Robert Torres at Ratorres@berkshirebank.com.
     

At Berkshire we are launching a new CD product in partnership with The Runway Project to support underserved small businesses. This will allow for community investment in a place-based, risk-free CD product while building the capacity of the local ecosystem for community capital and business support.
 

Subject to approval. Offer may change without notice and available to The Runway Project clients.