Providing Critical Loans, Grants and Coaching for Underserved Entrepreneurs

Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon

BY: Melissa Freeman

• Director of Strategic Projects

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Brown issued Executive Order No. 20-12, “Stay Home, Save Lives,” on March 23, 2020, effectively requiring small businesses to shut down unless they were providing food, groceries, health care, pharmacy or pet store services and could do so with social distancing or take-out or delivery service.

Nita Shah, executive director at Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO), reached out to OCF for help. MESO, a community development financial institution (CDFI), provides access to capital for underserved entrepreneurs including people of color, women, veterans, and low-income small business owners. MESO provides business coaching and training to help small business owners establish systems to enable them to access low-interest loans from MESO and then traditional financing down the road.

As the pandemic hit, Nita knew her clients would be impacted the most, as they are unlikely to be able to access traditional bank financing and represent already underserved populations. She also knew that her borrowers would be unlikely to be able pay their loan payments with such a sudden drop in revenue and would need assistance remaining open and applying for federal or state financing that might become available. Fortunately, OCF was able to help.

OCF launched the Oregon Small Business Stabilization Fund and seeded it with $300,000 on March 24. Several banks, corporations, foundation partners, the state, OCF donors and individuals donated another $2.3 million. By mid-June, all the funding was deployed to organizations across the state that provide grants or loans to small businesses or business coaching services. Priority was given to organizations serving women, people of color and rural business owners. OCF provided $370,000 to MESO from the Oregon Small Business Stabilization Fund.

Gloria Sanchez, owner of Gloria’s Hair Salon

Gloria Sanchez, owner of Gloria’s Beaverton Salon


One of the beneficiaries of this grant is Beaverton-based Gloria Sanchez, owner of Gloria’s Beaverton Salon. Gloria had to temporarily shutter her business to comply with the state order to flatten the curve. As an immigrant from Mexico, she had worked hard to build her clientele. In a new country, she was often told, “You’ll never succeed,” and “Your English is not strong enough; clients won’t want to come.”

She learned about MESO, which was located just around the corner from her salon’s location and began taking classes to strengthen her business. She was identified for two MESO programs: Anchor, which provides strategic consulting and builds key skills; and the Individual Development Account (IDA) program, which provides incentives for saving and offers a 3-to-1 match for use with business-related assets and activities. With her IDA-matched savings funds, she replaced the salon’s cracked drywall and chipped floors. She added fresh paint, new chairs and a washer and dryer.

Gloria applied for an emergency relief grant from MESO in April that allowed her to cover expenses during the shutdown, freeing her to plan new services and ways to keep her clients safe. As a result, when the ban was lifted, Gloria quickly reopened, once again providing a safe environment to serve her clients.

View a complete list of grants from the Oregon Small Business Stabilization Fund here.