Fueling female entrepreneurs
There is a famous Haitian proverb ”Bondye fe san di.” It translates to, God acts and doesn’t talk.
When you meet Nathalie Lecorps and hear the story of how she founded the first food truck in Boston serving Haitian food, you realize she embodies this saying day in and day out.
Launching the food truck is a labor of love years in the making. Growing up as the child of restaurant owners in Miami, Lecorps realized at a young age she wanted to follow in her family’s footsteps – feed people delicious food that fills their souls and stomachs.
Lecorps began a catering company and purchased a non-working food truck in Miami, where she started her relationship with Chase for Business. After a number of personal and professional challenges, the mother of two boys realized she wanted more for herself, her family and her business.
The food entrepreneur moved to Massachusetts to pursue her venture with the encouragement of her cousin, Karyn Glemaud, who according to Lecorps, is “a beast at getting things done and done precisely.” Though cousins, Lecorps and Glemaud didn’t meet until college where they were randomly paired as roommates. It wasn’t long before the two figured out they were sharing more than a dorm room. Later, the pair would add another layer to their close relationship — business partners. Bondye fe san di.
For a few years, Lecorps led programming at Woburn-based community organizations aimed at teaching people about Haitian Creole cooking and culture. However, the memory of her family’s restaurant compelled Lecorps to dedicate herself to her food truck business and launch Gourmet Kreyol, an homage to her family’s similarly named restaurant in Miami. After talking with friends and getting a lead on a food truck for sale, she made the purchase just as society was shutting down due to the COVID pandemic. Bondye fe san di.
Facing new challenges
According to Lecorps and Glemaud, they are slowly starting to figure out their process, the menu and how to operationalize and grow. Their launch of the food truck on April 3, 2021 marked an important day for the cousins who managed to get this business off the ground through the emotional and financial support of each other, their families and friends.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, female entrepreneurs make up a third of business owners and that figure is steadily rising.
When it comes to funding their enterprises, however, women are far behind. Women obtain a significantly smaller share of business loans and more than half of female entrepreneurs self-fund their start-ups. A reality Lecorps and Glemaud know too well.
As the number of female entrepreneurs nationally has risen so has awareness of the funding gaps many face, especially women of color. Today, an increasing number of grants and loans are directed solely at women. Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular options.
Small business loans
The advantages: Business loans generally come with reasonable interest rates and are relatively easy to obtain, and loans with fixed interest rates offer steady, predictable payments. Some of the most popular small business loans are those backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). There are several kinds of SBA loans, including general, or 7(a) loans, CDC/504 loans, which are mostly used for hard assets or construction, and smaller microloans. You can learn more about each type of loan at sba.gov. Discuss the requirements with your lender.
The disadvantages: Depending on the type of loan you get, your lender may require you to keep your businesses’ debt-to-equity ratio at a certain level, or you won’t be able to obtain further financing. Credit scores are also important as they can impact the interest rate of your business loan.
The advantages: Grants don’t need to be repaid. They’ve become increasingly easy to find, and many are specifically offered to women. If you’re looking for a grant, start with the database of federally sponsored grants, Grants.gov. You can also find grants aimed at supporting women-owned businesses on the website of small business nonprofit Score.org.
The disadvantages: Free money sounds good to just about everyone—and that makes for lots of competition! The process of applying for grants can be time-consuming, and the approval process can be lengthy.
Community Development Financial Institutions
Another avenue to explore are Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which according to the Opportunity Finance Network, are private financial institutions that provide fair, transparent financing and financial education to people and communities underserved by mainstream financial institutions.
Groups like Ascendus provide access to capital and financial education for entrepreneurs, typically individuals of color and women, to create more opportunities to grow their ventures and strengthen their communities. A list of CDFIs based in Massachusetts can be found at ofn.org.
Unless you have a great deal of savings, you’ll likely need to take a loan or line of credit against your personal assets, such as your home equity, or accrue personal debt in the form of a personal loan or credit card.
Though many business owners need some sort of seed money, it also may be possible to grow your business organically, by reinvesting profits into the business.
The advantages: You retain full control of your company, and don’t have to answer to outside investors.
The disadvantages: Successful bootstrapping requires steady growth, and not having a large chunk of cash on hand may limit how quickly you can achieve your goals. Should your business not succeed as quickly as you hoped, you may wind up owing significant interest on your personal debts.
The road ahead
Gourmet Kreyol is growing every week and the founders are now looking for investments to take their venture to the next level. There is no doubt they will achieve all their goals and then some. After all, bondye fe san di.
Gourmet Kreyol serves customers on Thursdays from 11am–3pm at 137 Green Street in Jamaica Plain and on Fridays from 11am-3pm at 775 Harrison Avenue at Boston Medical Center. Visit www.gourmetkreyol.com or follow them on Instagram @GourmetKreyol for updates and news.