CAMEO Expands Incubator to Support Mission-Driven Lenders Focused on Underserved Entrepreneurs

Guest blog post written by Emily Gasner, VP, Strategic Initiatives and CDFI Incubator Director at CAMEO

CAMEO, California’s statewide micro-business network and leading voice for businesses with one to five employees, has expanded their CDFI incubator to more comprehensively support mission-driven lenders working to create, strengthen, and grow lending programs for small businesses. This program is now open to any CDFI in the country looking to increase capacity or to any mission-driven lender hoping to become certified as a CDFI.

The announcement of the incubator program expansion came during CAMEO’s annual Microlender Forum in late September — a gathering of over 40 mission-based lenders discussing new tactics for small business lending in a pandemic environment — which was keynoted by the administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Isabel Guzman.

CAMEO logo

“The expansion of (CAMEO’s) incubator program, funded in part by an SBA grant, will help lenders acquire the knowledge and expertise needed to help the smallest of small businesses thrive,” Guzman wrote on Twitter following the launch.

The CDFI incubator, led by 20-year CDFI expert Emily Gasner, features several programs to help mission-based lenders advance their lending framework, including: 

  • MicroLending Essentials: An underwriting training for business coaching and lending organizations on the practice of microlending underwriting.
  • CDFI Essentials Training: A program that offers a review of the lender’s loan policy manual, monthly cohort learning sessions, individual coaching, and access to guest speakers who are leaders in the CDFI industry.
  • The Impact Fund: The Impact Fund provides up to $250,000 in capital to young CDFIs in order to strengthen their portfolio. 
  • Loan Loss Reserves: CAMEO offers small grants for loan loss reserves to microlenders in an effort to support microlending to diverse entrepreneurs in California.
  • Online Lending Technology: CAMEO has aggregated small volume lenders on the LendingFront platform, offering a low-cost approach to high-quality lending technology, paired with organizational assistance for technology adoption. 
  • MicroLenders Forum: A convening of over 40 lending organizations each year to discuss industry developments and offer training.
  • Intro to the CDFI Fund: CAMEO provides training and practical hands-on advice on everything lenders need to do to navigate the CDFI Fund, including certification, reporting, and applying for grant funds. 
  • Consulting Services: CAMEO offers consulting services to help organizations start microlending programs or complete their strategic growth plans.

“We’re thrilled to see strong interest in starting new CDFIs and lenders to support businesses in underinvested communities. CDFIs gained increased attention throughout the Covid-19 economic crisis for their ability to reach underserved entrepreneurs with access to loans and small business support when traditional banks failed to do so. But starting and growing a CDFI can be challenging,” said CAMEO CEO Carolina Martinez. “We’re proud that our CDFI incubator provides the technical knowledge and expertise that new and young mission-based lenders need to strengthen their lending infrastructure.”

CAMEO’s incubator program builds on the increased national interest in CDFIs, following their powerful outreach to small businesses during the pandemic, and is designed to help deliver the complex technical information needed to run a successful mission-driven lending program.

Learn more about the CDFI incubator.