A Big Check for Small Businesses

ABOVE PHOTO: From left: MESO client Gaila Lusby; Josh Lyons, KeyBank market president for Oregon and S.W. Washington and Commercial Banking leader; MESO Executive Director Cobi Lewis; MESO client Tralice Lewis; and MESO Business Development Director Jataune Hall hold a check representing a two-year, $150,000 grant that KeyBank has presented to help MESO provide support to underserved entrepreneurs. PHOTO COURTESY OF: MESO

A Portland-based nonprofit has received a big financial boost to further its mission to provide business development services and equitable access to capital to help historically underserved entrepreneurs start and grow successful small businesses.

Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO) will use a two-year, $150,000 grant from KeyBank Foundation to provide services and support to entrepreneurs who are Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC), women or low-income, with a focus on rural and unincorporated parts of Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties in the Portland metro area.

MESO was founded in 2005 under the umbrella of the Black United Fund to provide technical assistance to Black-owned small businesses in danger of being forced out of North and Northeast Portland by gentrification. The nonprofit has since grown to also serve clients through Oregon offices in Beaverton, Clackamas and a Southwest Washington office in Vancouver. The nonprofit provides business development services and financing to more than 700 historically underserved entrepreneurs each year. More than 85% of the entrepreneurs MESO works with are BIPOC, more than 70% are women, and 20% have a primary language other than English. In addition, more than 55% of small business loans placed by MESO benefit communities of color.

The nonprofit’s work makes it a perfect fit for KeyBank’s mission, according to Josh Lyons, KeyBank’s market president for Oregon and Southwest Washington, and a commercial banking leader. The new gift increases the total KeyBank has donated to MESO to $440,000 since 2016. It is the most the bank has ever given to a community organization in Oregon and S.W. Washington, according to the company.

“We are delighted to again partner with MESO to help these industrious, small-scale entrepreneurs improve their communities through business development,” Lyons said. “We’ve seen how MESO’s proven model and comprehensive services can lead to increased revenue, business retention and loan repayment.”

Lyons and other representatives from KeyBank visited MESO’s main campus in Northeast Portland on April 6 to present an oversized check to MESO Executive Director Cobi Lewis and Jataune Hall, MESO’s director of business development.
During the event, MESO clients Tralice Lewis, who owns Callie’s Custom Hat Wigs, and Gaila Lusby, owner of Momma G’s Soup, shared stories of how MESO helped both women start their small businesses. The two entrepreneurs are among five MESO clients preparing to open brick-and-mortar locations at the Rockwood Rising Market Hall in Gresham.

Josh Lyons, KeyBank‘s market president for Oregon and S.W. Washington and Commercial Banking leader, and MESO Executive Director Cobi Lewis discuss the partnership between MESO and KeyBank.

Lewis credited MESO with providing the tools she needed to help her business grow from a home-based start-up to a storefront presence. In addition to receiving access to capital, Lewis has learned about managing cash flow and using digital marking through businesses education classes offered by MESO.

Lusby received similar support to start and grow her small business. Momma G’s specializes in homemade soups and gluten-free baked goods.

Lusby and Lewis credit MESO’s support during the pandemic with helping their small businesses thrive despite the economic turmoil over the past two years. During the pandemic, the nonprofit worked with cities and counties in the Portland metro area as well as the state of Oregon to place nearly $26 million in emergency relief grants in the hands of small businesses hardest hit by the pandemic.

As small businesses now look to position for success in the future, MESO is expanding both the programs and services it provides to small businesses and the geographic area where it offers that support. MESO recently received a two-year, $150,000 grant from Umpqua Bank Foundation, for example, to support the nonprofit’s expansion to help small businesses in Southern Oregon. The nonprofit is currently opening a new office in Jackson County to support small businesses in the area, especially those owned by Indigenous and Latinx entrepreneurs, that are still working to recover from devastation and economic impacts caused by the pandemic and wildfires over the past two years.