Female entrepreneurs can level up with a little help from their friends.
By Jenny Hoff, Photo by Leighann Blackwood
When Rashidah Alshams moved from Washington, D.C. back to her native Austin in 2018, she had dreams of leaving the world of banking behind and starting her own yoga studio. She knew the banking industry and what they could offer entrepreneurs, but she was looking for something different—not just a loan, but a relationship with her “banker,” a community based on trust over credit scores. She found JUST, an organization dedicated to helping current and future Black and Latina women business owners level up their entrepreneurial visions through community and accountability.
“I’ve been affected by the lack of trust in a lot of places being a Black person,” she says. “JUST knows that trust starts in the community. It works because I’m as invested in my business as I am in my friend’s. Her growth is my growth.”
For women who apply for loans with JUST, there is no credit check or financial history requested. But there is accountability to their community. Women who complete the leadership program bring in other entrepreneurs from their circle of friends who also need loans. Loans are granted based on trust, with the assumption that you’re less likely to default on a loan when you’re accountable to a network of friends. These entrepreneurial circles of friends then meet once a week to discuss their challenges, their ideas and to pay off part of their loan. The loans come with a 15% interest rate on a declining balance. So, for your first $750 loan, you’ll pay about $15 in interest.
“After you’ve successfully paid off your first loan, you’ll gradually have the ability to borrow more, up to $15,000,” says Alshams, who is now the Community Growth and Partnership manager at JUST, as well as the owner of her yoga studio, Woke Yoga & Wellness, based in East Austin, where she grew up.
As the first Black entrepreneur funded by JUST (when they started in 2016, they focused on Latina immigrant women), Alshams says she is convinced more than ever that community is a vital element to starting your own business. Friends lift each other up, hold each other accountable and care about helping solve each other’s challenges. And it seems to work. Alshams says they have a 99% repayment rate.
“Use your circles to find a trusted partner,” advises Alshams. “Trust is the hardest thing to build. So why not start with somebody that you already trust to help you go forward?”
JUST also offers coaching, with the belief that with coaching, capital and community, a woman entrepreneur can elevate her business and her life, surrounded by the support of friends she can trust.