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Funding Business Growth in D.C.

One can see a range of new business development throughout the D.C. region. Whether it is the 11th Street Bridge project, a proposed addition to the downtown Ward 7 area, or small businesses that bring desired services and products to long neglected neighborhoods, the growth is undeniable.

One the leaders funding this growth is the Washington Area Community Investment Fund, Inc. (Wacif), a D.C.-based nonprofit community loan fund. Since 1987, Wacif has closed nearly 400 loans totaling over $32 million, with strategic investments in small business startup and growth, affordable housing and cooperatives, and community facilities.

A beneficiary of Wacif funding is PoBoy Jim, a Cajun restaurant building a second location in the popular 9th and U Streets, NW corridor. Owner Ian Reid is excited about the new location, will have a rooftop seating area, exposed brick walls and ceilings, and expanded storage area. The storage will serve both the new location and PoBoy Jim’s original location at 709 H Street NE, which currently sells 6,000 PoBoys a month.

Reid went through the usual process of raising money, seeking investors on his own and approaching banks, but hitting dead ends. Then he heard about Wacif.

“Coming up with funding took a long time,” said Reid, a native Washingtonian. “I learned about Wacif through a local business development event and they came in with funding to help complete the location on H Street.”

Wacif is an investment group that wants women and minorities to have access to business development capital. Its philosophy is to not just be in a transactional relationship, but to invest in the business and the individual.

A background in fitness along with personal lifestyle changes drove Kendra Blackett-Dibinga and Omékongo Dibinga to open Bikram Hot Yoga. With Wacif’s help, the Anacostia couple has opened three yoga studios in Riverdale Park, Ivy City and Takoma Park. Class offerings include Bikram Yoga, Hot Pilates, Yoga Nidra and LifeStretch.

Dibinga also learned about Wacif after attending a small-business event. A trained yoga teacher, his wife Blackett-Dibinga, pulled together a business plan for a yoga studio, then she took the plan to Wacif.

Wacif felt the business plan needed more work. So Blackett-Dibinga continued working as a yoga instructor while identifying funding sources for the first studio. She then went back to Wacif.

“There was a lot of paperwork, but the process was really smooth,” Blackett-Dibinga said of funding the first location in Riverdale Park. “I felt they really supported the vision, even through some bumps in the process. Wacif has helped us grow quickly in a short period of time”

Bikram Hot Yoga projects to generate $1 million in revenue by the end of 2017, with more locations in the region in the works.

As a native Washingtonian who has always lived “east of the river,” Wacif Executive Director Harold B. Pettigrew Jr. has seen all of the changes in local business development. With an extensive background in small business development, venture capital investing, transportation and transit, workforce development and public sector management Pettigrew views Wacif’s work through several lenses.

“Wacif has always been in the business of asset building,” Pettigrew said. “The investment we make in people, so they can create and grow an asset which is a business, leads to long-term wealth creation.”

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