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The Confluence Cast Podcast: Launching A Business In Columbus Featuring ECDI Founder & CEO Inna Kinney

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Confluence Cast presented by CU: Launching A Business In Columbus

Interview with Inna Kinney, Founder & CEO, ECDI



Tim Fulton: What is ECDI?


Inna Kinney: ECDI is a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs looking to start or expand their businesses and we provide a myriad of services to them.

ECDI officially was started in July 2004. It’s been a journey. The life of an entrepreneur…it’s never not busy. There’s always something going on and that’s what we try and teach people. The life of an entrepreneur is a journey and we’ve gone through a journey ourselves. There’s a need out there for people needing access to business services and that’s where we step in.

ECDI has three buckets, if you will, for our one-stop shop strategy, which is Invest, Educate, and Innovate. We are statewide with our home office established in Columbus, Ohio, 1655 Old Leonard Avenue, so please come and see us! Had to do a plug! We cover all 88 counties in Ohio with other offices in Cleveland and Akron with satellite offices in Cincinnati and Toledo.

Our total operating budget is $8.5 – $9 million dollars annually so we are a pretty substantial organization…we have roughly 60 staff throughout ECDI and we provide intensive services that take a lot of manpower and resources to do so.


TF: tell me about some of the classes ECDI provides?


IK: we offer classes for what we call a pre entrepreneur. We look at individuals in three categories; that individual who has that spark…that idea…that may not necessarily be vetted yet so that’s phase 1.

A phase 2 is someone that has the idea and a business plan that may need refinement but they are still in a pre-funding stage. A phase 3 client is someone with a business that is ready to grow, hire individuals, or overcome obstacles business owners encounter daily.

The classes address all three of those tiers so it’s very dynamic. One month may just be based on your idea. We conduct client surveys regularly to determine the needs they have so we provide workshops and seminars that are requested. Like I said, it’s very dynamic as we want to be able to assist all types of entrepreneurs, regardless of what phase they’re in.


TF: And you do have introductory sessions every two weeks?


IK: Yes, every two weeks…one at noon and one at six. It gives the opportunity to individuals that aren’t familiar with ECDI to find out about what we do and how we can help them in their journey.


TF: Is receiving capital from you linked to any specific training?


IK: Yes and no. For those individuals that do not have a business, we require them to take a class. It’s very important to have that education in the pre-loan setting so they have a better chance of success. 2 out of 3 small businesses fail so its important to give our clients the opportunity to succeed…. having a business plan, having financials, having projections figured out is very critical.


TF: I think the best way to demonstrate what ECDI is and what you do is to walk us through a success story. Do you have an example of someone, maybe at phase 2, who took some classes and received a loan and now they’re a flourishing business?


IK: We’ve been fortunate to serve over 6,000 individuals since inception so we do have a lot of success stories. I will give you an example.

Josephine Talieh came to ECDI about ten years ago with an idea. She wanted to serve individuals through a home healthcare business but didn’t have an understanding of how that business should be run but it was needed in her community. She went through our training and received a number of loans through us and now she has over 100 people working for her. She’s taken out loans to help cash flow to make payroll. Businesses go through journeys…I always use the word journey. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. ECDI is that place to come for help.


TF: Is home healthcare one of the specialty industries of ECDI?


IK: We focus on four lines if you will. These are all mainstream businesses; trucking, food-based businesses, home-based health care and business to business; doctors, attorneys, repair shops and restaurants.


TF: When you talk about trucking, are you talking about owner-operators or people handling logistics?


IK: Both, especially for those individuals who are coming from another country.


TF: So logistics and trucking…how did you align with those businesses?


IK: Again, I think it depends on the needs of the community. We don’t go out there and focus on these lines of business. They come to us and you want to meet people where they are at. Trucking, home health-care, food…. those are businesses that banks tend to shy away from due to high risk and that becomes areas where we specialize in because there is obviously a demand for those types of businesses, especially with home-health care…people are aging and we need to take care of them.

One of the things we do with our training is look at business sectors that are hot and we will help steer individuals into those industries.


TF: So literally someone could come through the door and say, “these are what I’m passionate about.” Then you’re able to tell those individuals that this should be the type of business to pursue?


IK: We do that. Again, that’s a phase one…the best story is the story when someone doesn’t have a clue and we try and direct them to a place that makes sense for them.


TF: Are there populations that you feel you serve more than others?


IK: We like to say unbanked and under banked. Under banked could be someone from another country…they don’t have credit…they also don’t have bad credit but they are just trying to establish themself in the US, especially for people coming from Africa or war-torn countries… about 30% of our clients are refugees and immigrants. There is a huge need there. These people are well educated, they have entrepreneurial spirit…to leave their country of origin is very hard in itself…you don’t bring much with you…its yourself and your family…you could go to odd lots and make $8 an hour or you can try to start something for yourself and your family. ECDI has always had a hand in establishing businesses in Columbus, Ohio from refugee populations. As they come to the US, they’re trying to serve their own communities. It’s a good holistic approach that will not only serve their community but also serve everyone.


TF: Talk about the services you provide to food-based businesses.


IK: We’ve always seen food-based businesses as the lifeblood of our economy. We’ve seen a resurgence of great restaurants. We’ve seen America embrace healthy food. Just look at Columbus over the past ten years with all the great restaurants coming out…we’ve helped a lot of those businesses.


TF: You want to drop some names?


IK: Well we’ve worked with Chris Crader, owner of Harvest Pizza, The Sycamore…we’ve financed almost all of his businesses to date. We lend to bankable businesses but we’ve seen more and more come to us…they come to use for a reason. It’s not about the interest rates or what banks offer vs. what we offer. We offer a home touch. We are on a journey with them. Banks aren’t lending to restaurants. They are more focused on paying dividends to either shareholders so they are not going to fund risky businesses so that’s where we come in. Chris Crader has been with us for many years and we have so many restaurants, caterers, food-based businesses that are mobiles. We really helped start the mobile scene in Columbus with the Food Fort, our food-based business incubator – commercial kitchen and commissary.

Early on when I started ECDI, I wanted to focus on the food economy to make sure those businesses succeed. Opening up a restaurant is a huge undertaking. You don’t know if it will succeed or not. 60% of new restaurants fail in the first three years. That’s a reality. So they come to ECDI -- use our kitchen, perfect their recipe, their strategy…try out their concept by renting a cart to get it on the street.

We have a membership model for food trucks that they can use our facilities for food prep and storage, park onsite 24/7 with access to electric. We even book their gigs. It’s a place to come to if you’re a caterer to use a commercial facility accessible to you to create your product. The services we offer to our food-based entrepreneurs are some of the best in the country.


TF: How did you have the vision to start ECDI?


IK: Well, it’s one of those things you know…sitting at home being bored…what can I do to help our community?


TF: Is that true?


IK: Haha, no, no. Like I’ve said, I had my own journey. My family came to the US from the USSR in 1974 and I experienced that entrepreneurial spirit from the time I came to the US. My family was the first family resettled in Columbus from the USSR and my parents always wanted to have their own businesses. The journey stared from seeing my parents starting businesses, some failed and some worked, but always looking at it from the inside out thinking, “what could’ve happened to my parents throughout their experiences starting their business that would’ve benefitted them?”

I don’t think it matters whether you come from another country or you are an American born-citizen, even for those that go to college and get a degree in business. Guess what? It doesn’t teach you entrepreneurship. It is very specific to the individual and I realized that and that was a focus of ECDI initially. We started doing training, a key component of success…having a business plan…an operations plan…and understanding what it takes to make your business better.


TF: What’s your professional background before ECDI?


IK: I went to Bexley and graduated when I was 16 and then went to Ohio State University and then moved to Chicago and started working at IBM. In 1988, with two little kids, my husband and I moved back to Columbus…my husband went into business with my father. His business was a success so it made sense to move back to Columbus…I was still raising my little ones but if you’ve met me, you know I can’t sit still, so then I just began volunteering at an organization called Jewish Family Services, a non-profit that resettled my family. At this time, there was a third wave of immigrants coming to Columbus…highly educated and they had the same issues my parents had. “I want to start my own business. This is the land of opportunity….we stand for capitalism but how do you make it work for you when your note familiar with it?” The idea was born to start a program at JFS called micro-enterprise. A micro-enterprise is a business with five or less employees with a capitalization of 50k or less. It slowly morphed into ECDI in 2004. That’s the story and that is still the story today…we want to help people make their dreams a reality whether they’re foreign born, American born…wherever they are, we will meet them in their journey. It doesn’t matter if you’re a well-established business or on federal assistance, we are here to help you.


TF: And any type of business as well?


IK: Any type!


TF: What are some initiatives you are working on right now?


IK: Well there’s a lot. To teach someone to be an entrepreneur, you have to be one yourself. We are a non-profit but there are a lot of opportunities and we want to enhance those for our clients. We have had two new projects in the last couple years. One is our Women’s Business Center of Ohio, the only SBA-recognized WBC in the state and we have one here in Columbus and one in Cleveland. We focus on women entrepreneurs, taking them through their journey…. they have different needs then men. There is a mentorship network, resource center, library, and a co-working space.

We help them through the life of their journey. They need a loan? We are there. They need training? We are there. Our training takes place in Warehouse 1, which we converted into co-working space…a place for entrepreneurs in startup phase to get their businesses up and going.


TF: and that’s more of a general working space when compared to the Food Fort?


IK: yes, the Food Fort focuses on food-based businesses where this co-working space can be utilized by anyone, including food-based businesses. We have offices that can be rented…meeting rooms that can be booked. It has everything you need to make your business a reality plus access to training.


TF: What are the costs involved with that?


IK: It depends on the user and their needs, which we assess when you come for consultation. Check out our website first to see what we do and then give us a call at (614) 559-0115 to set up an appointment with us!

Some of the newer projects that we are working on…there’s a demand for our food-based services…. it has increased over the last four years. We currently have 14 trucks that use our facilities, outdoor parking, and access to discounted propane…again, we are creating income for us as well.

We own the lot across the street and our expanding our Food Fort onsite services by opening up an additional commissary for our food trucks. We should have it operational, god willing, early summer.

We are also starting to look at larger loans…we currently go up to $350,000 but we know there’s a demand for more established businesses to get additional capital so we are looking into it. We are also looking into sector-specific lending. We are starting a loan fund for minority subcontractors. There is a need for different types of loans – lines of credit for working capital because they are often not paid until the general contractor is.


TF: That’s not a space you guys have explored before, is it?


IK: Well we do have our home repair program where we help not only our clients but also senior citizens and disabled by doing minor home repairs. Its one of the those double bottom lines we like to see: We help our clients secure contracts while being able to provide those services to the elderly and disabled, free of charge. It’s a true social enterprise for us.


TF: Can you sum up the essence of ECDI for us?


IK: Sure! The essence of ECDI…if you want to start or expand a business, we are the place to go. Also I am going to do a little plug. It takes a lot of money to run ECDI so if you want to support local entrepreneurs, Call us and come and see us. If you want to invest local, our program “Invest Local Ohio” is a great avenue for those individuals who want to invest money into local businesses. Don’t put your money on Wall Street! Invest in ECDI. It’s a $1,000 minimum investment. We leverage your dollars 3-1 with other loan funds and it goes only to local businesses. These are on a three-year note with 2% return to the investor. On a five-year note, it’s a 3% return to the investor. For those that have your money sitting in a bank earning fractions of percentage, not only are you getting a bigger return, you’re putting your money into local cities, counties, and state.


TF: And you have done some actual capital investment in some local businesses as well, correct?


IK: We have. We have taken equity investments in some of our businesses over the years but we need to make sure that the businesses we capitalize meet certain criteria. Job creation is important. Social enterprise is important but this is an avenue we are trying to explore more and more.


TF: and obviously you guys have an obligation to see a return on that investment?


IK: Correct. Everyone talks about sustainability. That’s what we teach our clients to be sustainable. Even though we are a non-profit, we want to be more and more sustainable which creates a different approach for us. Social enterprise is something we believe in so we want to invest in opportunities that give back to the community as well.


TF: Inna, thanks again for your time and chatting with us today.


IK: Thank you! I really appreciate it! Please come and see us and let us help make your business dreams a reality.